Skydiving Plane Crash in New York Injures Six

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A six-seat skydiving plane clipped trees and crashed in the woods while taking off Sunday from an upstate New York airfield, critically hurting one person and leaving five others with less serious injuries, authorities said.

The Frontier Skydivers plane went down around 2:20 p.m. after taking off from a privately owned grass runway at the airfield the club uses in Wilson, about 35 miles north of Buffalo, the Niagara County Sheriff's Office and the Federal Aviation Administration said.

"As it was taking off, the aircraft failed to clear some treetops at the airport, and it crashed in a wooded area," FAA spokesman Jim Peters said.

Niagara County Sheriff James Voutour said the plane was about 30 or 40 feet in the air when it veered sharply left into the treetops and overturned, breaking apart as it came to rest about 25 yards to the left of the end of the runway. Photos showed the tail section upside down in trees and the nose section on its roof, wheels in the air.

"It was devastating damage," Voutour said. "I couldn't believe it when they told me everybody was alive."

It was unknown why the plane veered, he said. The weather was 80 degrees and sunny with light winds.

"It was open territory when it turned left," Voutour said. "Had they gone straight they would have taken off into flight... For whatever reason they veer left and go right into the treetops."

Helicopters and ambulances carried the crash victims, one woman and five men, to Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo. All live in western New York, authorities said. Their names weren't immediately released.

"Most of them were strewn about the crash scene," the sheriff said. The most seriously injured person, a passenger, was unconscious and received CPR before being flown to the hospital, Voutour said.

"The pilot was in good shape. He was walking around," said Voutour, who said crews with chain saws cleared a path for stretchers to be brought out.

The prop plane was a Cessna 185, Frontier Skydivers safety and training adviser John Huber said.

Frontier Skydivers, founded in 1960, runs a skydiving center that offers parachuting classes and other activities. It hosted a North American parachute championship in 1967, according to the club's website.

Participants have occasionally been hurt in mishaps, including one who unsuccessfully sued the club after he crashed-landed on a concrete grain silo during a jump in 1991, breaking his wrists and an ankle. A jury rejected his $500,000 claim in 1996, after the club's lawyer said the parachutist's own errors made him miss the club's nearby landing site, according to a news report.

The Cessna 185 is a six-seat, single-engine airplane also known as the Skywagon. It was manufactured from 1961 to 1985.

Some 16 skydivers nationwide were killed in various accidents last year, the fewest since 1961, according to the United States Parachute Association. Nearly 750 skydivers suffered injuries requiring medical attention last year during nearly 2.5 million jumps, the organization says.

An FAA investigator was sent to the crash scene and will supervise the investigation, Voutour said.