MELVILLE, N.Y. — A small vintage airplane that was part of a GEICO stunt team with five other planes crashed in a wooded residential area, killing its pilot, police said Wednesday.
The pilot of the World War II-era GEICO Skytypers plane was pronounced dead at the scene shortly after the plane crashed and burned on a street lined on one side with houses.
"It was fortunate that the plane crashed in the wooded area and not the residential part," Suffolk County police Chief of Department Stuart Cameron told Newsday.
The plane had departed nearby Republic Airport and was heading to Maryland when it crashed.
The pilot, Kenneth Johansen, 52, of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, was the sole occupant on the plane, and no one on the ground was injured, police said. The Federal Aviation Administration said the crash involved an SNJ-2 aircraft, a World War II-era plane. Police described the plane as a North American T-6 Texan.
A spokeswoman for Skytypers said Johansen was a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, naval aviator, professional airline pilot and a husband and father of two children.
"A careful and thorough investigation is already under way," Skytypers said in statement. "We are working with local law enforcement, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the National Transportation Safety Board. Our thoughts are with Ken and his family."
Johansen first flew with the Skytypers at the age of 8, according to his bio posted on the stunt team's website. It said he "caught the aviation bug early in his life" from his Skytyping instructor pilot father.
The Skytypers performed at last weekend's Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach.
Photos of the wreckage show thick black smoke and raging orange flames.
College student Lauren Peller was in her home with her mother when the plane went down across the street next to woods.
"We heard a loud noise, almost like a tree fell on the house, and we ran down the stairs and there was smoke and the plane was on fire," said Peller, adding that her mother then called 911.
Houses were about 200 feet (60 meters) away, firefighters said.
"It's extremely lucky that nothing was hit," Melville First Assistant Fire Chief David Kaplan said.
Accountant Lou Scaglione told Newsday he was eating lunch when he noticed a small group of World War II planes. Then, he said, there was one fewer and he saw smoke over the trees.
"It's heartbreaking," Scaglione said. "These planes are part of Long Island. It's a shame that one of them is down over there."