A flying lesson at Montauk Airport went wrong late Saturday morning when an airplane veered off the runway on takeoff and burst into flames. The instructor and a student pilot, who were practicing takeoffs and landings, escaped without injury, but the airplane, a 4-seat, single-engine Cirrus SR22, was destroyed in the accident.
Pascal Dangin of Manhattan, who owns a home on Windmill Lane in Amagansett, was attempting a takeoff at about 11:45 a.m. Saturday when he lost control of the aircraft, according to Rudy Weiss, the assistant manager of the airport on East Lake Drive in Montauk.
Mr. Dangin, one of the world’s premier fashion photography retouchers, owns the high-performance aircraft through the corporation name Air Box, LLC, Federal Aviation Administration officials said. Mr. Dangin, who owns Box Studios in Manhattan, did not return phone calls to his Manhattan offices.
The instructor, John S. Cullings of Seaside Avenue in Hampton Bays, was the other occupant of the airplane. He works through Sound Aircraft Services at East Hampton Airport in Wainscott. A woman who answered the phone at Sound Aircraft said that the company had no comment. The phone number for Mr. Cullings, who is a certified commercial pilot, flight instructor, ground instructor and airplane mechanic, is not listed.
East Hampton Town Police Chief Todd Sarris said that a gust of wind apparently caused the Cirrus, which has a top speed of more than 200 mph and can cost as much as $500,000, to veer off the runway soon after liftoff. It crashed into trees off the right side of Runway 24 after a wing scraped the ground, Chief Sarris said. The occupants escaped before fire engulfed the airplane. The Montauk Fire Department responded to fight the blaze.
Montauk Fire Department Chief Robert Gosman Jr. said that about 30 firefighters responded to the call and had the fire out within 20 minutes.
“It’s been a while since we had a plane on fire,” Chief Gosman said. “We’ve had many close calls, but this was our first hands-on crash and fire in the past 30 years.”
The Federal Aviation Administration’s website does not list Mr. Dangin as a licensed pilot. He also does not have a student certificate on record with the FAA, said Roland Herwig, a spokesman for the FAA at its office in Oklahoma City. Mr. Herwig said Mr. Dangin may have a student’s certificate, and it just may not yet be registered with the FAA.
It is legal for someone without any pilot or student certification to own a plane and fly with a certified instructor, such as Mr. Cullings, acting as pilot in command, said Jim Peters, who is also an FAA spokesman.
Mr. Dangin and Mr. Cullings were practicing simulated soft field landings and takeoffs at the time of the accident, Chief Sarris said. Soft field landings are part of the training necessary to become a pilot.
Investigators from the FAA were investigating the crash, Mr. Weiss said. Bridget Serchak, a spokeswoman for the National Transportation Safety Board, the agency now investigating the crash, said that it will take at least a year for the board to issue its determination of the cause of the crash. The NTSB investigator assigned to the crash, Eric Alleyne, will have a preliminary report on the NTSB’s website in about 10 days, Ms. Serchak said.
The Cirrus SR22 plane has an onboard data recorder, Ms. Serchak said. The NTSB may use it to provide information as it determines the cause of the crash.
Michael Wright contributed to this story.