Accident Claims Life Of Vintage WWII Aircraft Enthusiast
Airshow pilot and
vintage aircraft enthusiast Robert Baranaskas was lost while
practicing for an upcoming airshow over the Atlantic Ocean off Fire
Island, NY Sunday afternoon.
According to Newsday reports, Baranaskas, 61, departed from
Brookhaven Calabro Airport (HWV) in his vintage Curtiss P-40
Warhawk shortly after 1 pm Sunday afternoon, to practice over the
Atlantic just offshore from Smith Point County Park. An apparent
stall/spin led to the plane crashing into the ocean.
The pilot's son, Chris Baranaskas, 28, was on the beach watching
his father practice and acting as spotter, and witnessed the fatal
crash about 300 yards from shore.
Mike Biedenkapp, 30, of Patchogue, was also watching the P-40
from the parking lot near the beach. "He climbed up, then came down
like a corkscrew," said Biedenkapp.
Bryan Binder of Sayville, surfing about 50 yards away at the
time, paddled over to try to help. "There was a really loud noise,"
Binder said. Witnesses reported seeing a puff of black smoke before
the aircraft impacted the water, which sent a splash some 20 feet
into the air. Other locals onshore rushed to the scene in boats,
finding debris from the crashed plane, but saw no sign of the
Suffolk police Det. Sgt. Thomas Groneman said the Coast Guard,
the Mastic Beach fire department, the Suffolk police aviation and
marine bureaus, and the 106th Rescue Wing of the New York Air
National Guard responded to the site. Strong currents and murky
waters were hampering the search effort, he said. A recovery team
continued to search for Baranaskas’ body into Sunday
Robert Baranaskas and son Chris were co-founders of Warbirds
Over Long Island, an organization "dedicated to the presentation of
World War II planes and the history that surrounds them," the WOLI
website states. "It is truly our belief that in order to properly
pay homage to the heroes who flew these magnificent machines we
must put forth our best efforts to keep them flying proud so that
their legacy may live on through posterity."
WOLI’s stable consists of a P-51 Mustang, a P-17 Stearman,
a SNJ Texan, and the P-40 Warhawk (type shown above) lost in
Sunday’s crash. Both Robert and Chris have been very active
on the airshow circuit, flying their WWII-era planes to the delight
of thousands, and putting into practice their belief "the only way
to truly appreciate the planes is to see them in flight ... only in
flight can one see the real beauty of what that generation