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4 killed as plane hits Coney Island beach

Sunbathers, others on ground escape injury

NEW YORK -- A small plane on a sightseeing tour over Coney Island went into a tailspin and slammed into the beach yesterday, killing all four people aboard but injuring none of the stunned sunbathers who witnessed the crash.

The victims died at the scene of the afternoon crash of the Cessna 172S, Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Holly Baker said. There were relatively few people on the beach at the time, and no one on the ground was hurt.

Eyewitnesses said the plane was circling above the Brooklyn beach when its engine stalled, and the aircraft plunged into the beach. The pilot tried desperately to right the four-year-old plane after it went into a tailspin, said Herbert Lecler, 51, who was fishing on the beach.

''He couldn't, and he bounced on that beach," Lecler said.

Joshua McCabe, a registered nurse visiting from San Diego, was eating inside Nathan's Famous hot dog restaurant when he heard the crash. McCabe and another witness rushed to the scene, where they found the pilot already dead and a female passenger barely alive.

Within seconds, he said, ''she wasn't breathing and then she lost her pulse."

Dick Zigun, a longtime Coney Island resident who was at the crash site, said it looked like the plane had come down nose-first. Several sunbathers were on the beach at the time, although the crowd was sparse, he said.

''The wings are broken off, and the cockpit glass was smashed up," Zigun said. ''It didn't look like anyone could survive that."

Police and fire officials moved quickly to close off the beach after the crash. Dozens of people were gathered along the boardwalk staring out at the wreckage.

The crash occurred within sight of the Wonder Wheel attraction at the beach, home to the Astroland amusement park. The plane hit the beach near KeySpan Park, a minor league baseball stadium.

The pilot was a New York City resident, while the other three victims were visiting from the South and were on a sightseeing tour for aspiring pilots, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a news conference. ''Obviously something went tragically wrong, and four people are dead," Bloomberg said. ''We should be glad there are not more."

None of the victims were immediately identified, pending notification of their families.

The cause of the crash was unknown, and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate.

The plane was registered to RJ Ventures LLC of Paramus, N.J.

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