By Amanda Wyatt; Photography by Michael Heller
Call it coincidence, or call it fate: When Craig Schum pulled up to East Hampton airport on Sunday, he just happened to have his Superman wallet in the backseat. Today, the Brooklyn-based baker is being lauded a real-life hero.
Schum, along with airport workers Jack Gleeson and Michael Norbeck, rescued a passenger from Sunday’s fiery plane crash at East Hampton airport. Shortly before 5:30 p.m. on August 26, a single-engine airplane crashed into the nearby woods shortly after taking off from runway 10.
Pilot Steven Bochter and his passenger, Kimberly Brillo, had planned to return home to Massachusetts that afternoon. But upon realizing that there was a problem with the plane, Bochter attempted to turn back to the airport, but to no avail.
Gleeson, an incoming East Hampton High School senior who has been working at the airport this summer, saw the low-flying plane make a deep left turn. But he and his colleagues initially assumed the pilot was “just showing off.”
“Nobody thought much of it until we heard trees cracking,” said Gleeson in an interview.
He reported that Norbeck, operations manager of Sound Aircraft Services, yelled out, “Call 911. There’s been a plane crash.”
Schum, who has been working at Levain Bakery in Wainscott for the summer, arrived at the airports few minutes earlier. On his way home from work, he noticed a group of protesters on the side of the airport road and pulled over to find out what was going on.
While chatting with members of the Quiet Skies Coalition — who have been protesting the recent increase in noise from the airport — Schum saw the plane go down. Without hesitating, he ran over to the woods and jumped over a large deer fence.
“All of those clichés — like, I didn’t think, I just kept running — were true,” he said.
“I remember getting to the top [of the fence] and thinking that it was a really bad idea to jump, and then I jumped and just kept running,” he added. “Everything else is just a blur.”
Gleeson also climbed over the fence and ran into the woods. By the time he got there, Bochter had managed to remove himself and his passenger from the plane.
“[The pilot] got her maybe five or 10 feet away from the airplane by the time I arrived. She was on the ground and it didn’t look like she was breathing,” said Gleeson. “[The pilot and I] moved her another 4 or 5 feet away from the plane, because eventually we knew the tanks were going to catch fire.”
At that point, the front of the plane was already on fire, and it was a matter of minutes before the entire aircraft would be engulfed in flames.
“[Bochter] was trying to get [Brillo] to wake up, but he seemed kind of out of it, like he didn’t realize that the plane behind us was on fire and about to go up in flames,” said Gleeson.
Norbeck then arrived, and the four men carried the barely conscious passenger to the deer fence, which they lifted up so they could slide Brillo under the fence. Gleeson added that Dean Foster, a local pilot, was waiting on the other side of the fence to assist in the rescue.
The East Hampton Town Police and Ambulance Squad were waiting at the scene. They administered first aid to both the crash victims and to Schum, who was left emotionally frazzled.
“I came out of the woods covered in [Brillo’s] blood and then I didn’t want to let the paramedics wash it off of me,” he remembers. “That attachment was powerful. It was two of the most intense minutes of my life.”
According to Chief Edward Ecker, Jr., the police left the area undisturbed, much like a crime scene, until investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) arrived around 8 p.m.
Although the FAA is now responsible for future investigation, Ecker speculated it would be a long process, since “they’re very thorough and there’s a whole litany of things that they have to look at.”
Ecker also mentioned that the East Hampton Fire Department, with the assistance of the Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor Fire
Departments, put fire-retardant foam on the flames at the crash site.
The passenger and pilot were both taken to Stony Brook University Medical Center via Medevac. On Tuesday evening, Clinton Weaver, senior director of Public Affairs & Marketing, said that both Brillo and Bochter had been discharged from the hospital.
At the same time, Gleeson, Norbeck and Schum have all been hesitant to call themselves heroes.
“There was a plane crash — that’s the story. I’m nothing,” Schum insists. “I’m proud of what I did, but I don’t need any accolades. I just want [Brillo and Bochter] to be okay.”