By Karen Frantz
A friend of two Queens men who perished Saturday after their small plane crashed in a Long Island inlet said they died following their passion.
“They were doing what they loved,” said Susan Spadaro, whose family owns Spadaro Airport, where the men had flown out of before the accident. “How many of us can actually say we get to do what we love to do?”
According to the Suffolk County Police Department, Andrew Messana, 72, of Bayside, and Cyril McLavin, 51, of Fresh Meadows, died when their single-engine Globe Swift plane crashed in the Moriches Inlet near Fire Island around 3 p.m. It was not clear yet what caused the crash.
Several people said both men were experienced pilots with several years under their belts, had often flown together and flying conditions were excellent that day. McLavin had also won awards in Ireland for spot landing, which measures landing accuracy.
McLavin was licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration as a private pilot for a single engine airplane and Messana was certified as a student pilot.
The morning of the crash the men attended a Young Eagles program at Brookhaven Calabro Airport that fostered aviation appreciation in children. The event was sponsored by the Experimental Aircraft Association, the Long Island chapter of which both men were members for a number of years.
Scott Redfield, chapter president of EAA, said McLavin brought his plane to the event to put on display, but did not take any children up for a flight.
He said McLavin had just bought the plane, which was popular after World War II, and it was highly modified.
“He was very proud of it,” he said.
Spadaro said McLavin and Messana flew to her airport after the event so they could have lunch with her.
“They got into the plane and we said our goodbyes,” she said. “They took off as usual and the plane looked great, the plane sounded great and that’s the last I saw of them.”
Those who witnessed the accident told authorities they heard the sputtering of an engine as they watched the plane crash into the inlet, police said.
Fisherman on a nearby boat were the first to arrive at the site and tied a rope to the plane to try to keep it above the water, according to Suffolk County police. The plane eventually sank, police said, about 30 feet underwater with the men still inside.
Police said the men’s bodies were recovered late Saturday night around 11 p.m. after a lengthy effort to remove the aircraft from the water.
Spadaro described McLavin, who was from Dysart in Co. Westmeath in Ireland, as a “walking encyclopedia.”
“You talk to him and your jaw drops because it’s like talking to a professor,” she said.
A longtime friend of McLavin’s, David Dubon, said he did freelance maintanence work in Fresh Meadows and the community affectionately called him “MacGiver.”
“He knew how to fix anything,” Dubon said. “That’s why when he died it was a shock to all of us.”
He said McLavin worked round the clock, but people knew not to call him on Wednesdays because that was the day he went flying.
Dubon said McLavin’s love of flying was so strong that he even built a plane in the empty basement of a real-estate company where Dubon helped him find work a super.
“There was nothing he couldn’t do,” Dubon said.
Messena retired about five years ago from Sophora Diagnostic Laboratory in Jamaica, where he worked for 15 years as a laboratory administrator and director of pathology services. He spent many hours volunteering at the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Long Island, Spadaro said.
“That was his passion,” she said. “He loved to fly.”
Messena and McLavin’s families could not be reached for comment, but Spadaro said she recently spoke with McLavin’s family and said they were holding up.
Services for McLavin will be held Wednesday at 2 p.m. at Frederick Funeral Home at 192-15 Northern Blvd. in Auburndale.
The incident is currently under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. A representative with the agency said it will take a year or more to complete a report on the probable cause of the accident.
Reporter Phil Corso contributed to this story.