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Mon, Apr 06, 2009

Airshow Pilot Robert Baranaskas Lost In P-40 Downing

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 pilot.

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 night.

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 created."

FMI: www.warbirdsoverlongisland.com

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