Secluded Community Jolted by Plane Crash With AM-Jetliner Crash, Bjt
Jan. 26, 1990
COVE NECK, N.Y. (AP) _ Paramedic Jeff Race didn't have enough time to be startled when a jet plane crashed a half mile from his home. Too many people needed help.
''There were bodies on top of bodies on top of bodies,'' said Race, 26, the first rescuer to reach the secluded wooded area where Avianca Flight 52 crashed Thursday night.
''People were screaming, 'Help me, help me, help me.' Limbs were bent every way you can imagine. I just started pulling people from the wreckage,'' said Race.
The wreckage was located off Tennis Court Road, the only road into and out of the affluent section of Long Island. Race borrowed a flashlight from a neighbor and pulled out six children while ambulances were called to the scene.
Through several hours in the dark and drizzle, Race freed 12 more people.
''One guy pinned in the wreckage had a little boy next to him. He said, 'Get the kid out first.' I'll never forget that,'' said the paramedic.
''I had to hold the flashlight strap in my teeth to carry another kid out. There were bodies all over the place - outside the plane, and buried in the wreckage. It was all mangled metal, aluminum, steel, and wires,'' he said.
Race, a New York City paramedic and volunteer member of the Oyster Bay Fire Company, spooned soup from a foam cup and munched cookies after his exhausting night. He stood in the rain in his Docksiders because he didn't have time to put on his fireman's boots.
''We're trained to prepare for the worst, but my first reaction was that this was a dream,'' Race said.
''I think it was a miracle for anybody on the plane to be alive,'' said Race. ''Hero? Everybody who was there was a hero.''
The plane crashed in a secluded hamlet of 400 residents that covers three square miles on Oyster Bay Harbor, which is part of Long Island Sound. Any new home requires four acres for a building permit.
The parents of tennis pro John McEnroe have an estate here and a temporary morgue was set up on their lawn across from a private outdoor tennis court.
Pop singer Billy Joel once owned a home here, and Race's parents live on a cottage that was once part of Theodore Roosevelt's estate. The ex-president is buried in nearby Sagamore Hill.
The community's normal calm was pierced by a procession of wailing police cars and ambulances. Helicopters roared overhead and landed in the flare-lit zones to whisk away the injured.
''If anything looks like a war, this has got to be it,'' said Race. ''We couldn't get the live people out because they were buried under the dead people.''
The plane clipped a path through the tree line before it plowed into an embankment.
Most of the passengers were still buckled in their seats. But Race said one woman's seat was thrown from the plane and perched on top the orange and white fuselage, while another woman had to pulled down from a tree.
The airplane lay in three pieces. The cockpit section had broken off the deck on Sam Tissenbaum's home, and the tail section lay across the road just 100 yards from Rick Robinson's two story green cottage.
Robinson, 53, was watching ''The Dave Thomas Comedy Show'' on television with his 79-year-old mother when he heard a disturbance and went out to investigate.
''It was a scraping noise, like a tree falling or a snowplow dragging along the road. I didn't hear any engine noise,'' said Robinson, a sports writer for the Oyster Bay Guardian.
He returned to the house for a flashlight without realizing what had happened.
''A wire burst into flame and I could see the outline of the plane. I could just hear them feebly crying for help,'' said Robinson. ''It's amazing it didn't explode. It just crumpled. It's shocking how close it came to my house.''