Three people were killed when a small plane broke up in the air and crashed on a residential Long Island road lined by homes and schools Tuesday afternoon, authorities say.
Two men and a woman were on board the single-engine Beeech BE35 aircraft when it crashed on Cold Spring Road in Syosset just after 2:30 p.m., the FAA says. Authorities on the scene have recovered their bodies, Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano said.
No one on the ground was hurt, authorities said.
The plane took off from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, at about 12:45 p.m., and was headed to Plainville, Connecticut, according to the FAA.
The pilot made a distress call over Farmingdale reporting some type of instrumentation problem, according to NTSB senior investigator Robert Gretz. He said the pilot said something to the effect of, "I have a partial panel loss."
The plane then disappeared off the radar and broke up in flight, leaving behind a debris field of about two miles.
"Sometimes the higher up it breaks up, the larger the debris field," Gretz said.
Recordings between first responders and dispatch revealed the sheer amount of wreckage that was scattered on the ground.
"I got multiple parts to a plane," one first responder is heard saying in the recordings posted to Broadcastify. "I just found a sneaker... I got like a sneaker... a bag."
Another says, "I've got a fuselage of one single-engine plane. I see a lot of clothes and another sneaker."
The stretch of Cold Spring Road is lined by homes and several schools. Melissa Wesley Kessler, a teacher at Berry Hill Elementary School, said she was working inside when she suddenly heard a very loud noise, like a motorcycle revving its engine.
"I didn't hear a crash or anything, it just sounded like something kind of coming down out of the sky," she said.
When she walked out, "there were fire engines and pieces of debris partly on our school grounds, across the street, down the block. Pieces of glass, twisted metal."
"It was really frightening," she said. "I had a pit in my stomach, it was scary."
Neighbor Bianco Devito recounted a similar scene.
"I was just sitting in my living room and all of a sudden, I heard a buzzing noise and then a huge boom, sort of like something was being dropped," she said.
When she ran outside into her backyard, which faces the parking lot of the BOCES Long Island High School for the Arts, she saw a body.
"Oh God, it was terrible. It's not something you're expecting to be seeing every day. It was very scary," she said.
A woman named Nicole told NBC 4 New York she was driving to Southwoods Junior High School to pick up a girl she babysits when something suddenly fell out of the sky, landing about 20 feet in front of her to the right.
"I didn't know what it was first at all, but it looked like an airplane seat," she said.
"I had to do a triple take. I couldn't believe an airplane seat just fell in front of me," she said.
Nicole said she didn't know what to make of the "bizarre" incident, especially because she didn't hear anything, but when she got to the school, "everyone was looking up at the sky and then we kind of found out a little bit after that."
The schools in the area -- including the Long Island High School for the Arts, Berry Hill Elementary Syosset High School, Southwoods Junior and Senior High School and Syosset High School -- were locked down briefly after the crash as authorities investigated.
Gretz siad it's not clear why the plane broke apart in the sky.
"It's not a common investigation for us," Gretz said of the plane breaking apart in the sky. "It does happen. In 18 years, I've probably worked five or 10 of them."
Officials are looking at a number of factors in the crash, including whether the pilot was caught in bad weather. If the pilot didn't have functioning instrumentation in bad weather, it would be like driving through fog without lights or a dashboard, Gretz said.
Gretz said Nassau police was assisting in the investigation by documenting each piece of plane debris. A preliminary report is expected to be issued within five to 10 business days, and a final report including a probable cause will be issued in about nine to 12 months.
Cold Spring Road was closed in both directions between Townsend Road and Chelsea Drive as emergency responders attend to the scene.
The FAA says it will investigate the crash and the National Transportation Safety Board will determine the cause.