A small, private plane contracted by the U.S. Defense Department to support a military training exercise crashed in a lake in a remote area of the western Adirondacks Thursday morning.
The plane had taken off from Burlington, Vt., was bound for Rome, N.Y., and crashed in Gull Lake, in the northeast corner of Herkimer County: west of Lake Lila, south of Cranberry Lake and north of the Stillwater Reservoir.
"The tail was sticking out of the water, as I understand it," Ray Brook-based state police Lt. Walter Teppo said. "The pilots were able to get to shore. They were unharmed."
The New York Air National Guard helped rescue the two men involved in the crash. A pair of HH-60 helicopters from the Guard's 106th Rescue Wing, based on Long Island, were flying in the area at the time of the plane went down, according to Maj. Giuseppe Scaglione.
"We were en route to the Army base at Fort Drum, doing some training," Scaglione said. "We heard the mayday message over the radio. Air traffic control asked us if we could support and vectored us into the last known coordinates. Our pilots took over from there and conducted some search operations. They found the aircraft as well as the two crew members. My understanding is they were both standing along the shore, so they had made it out of the aircraft on their own."
The two were not seriously injured, Scaglione said. They were picked up and helicoptered to Fort Drum to be checked out by medical personnel there.
"It's just very fortunate for the crew that went down that our guys happened to be nearby," Scaglione said. "Our mission here at the 106th Rescue Wing is, of course, rescue. These guys train for it, day in and day out."
The Vermont National Guard issued a press release about the crash late Thursday afternoon. It said the small, fixed-wing aircraft was a civilian plane contracted by the Department of Defense to support a Vermont Air National Guard military training exercise in the local area. It was not carrying any weapons, the release stated.
"The Department of Defense regularly contracts civil aircraft to provide support for training exercises," the release said. "The crash occurred in a remote location and will not affect public safety. A formal investigation will take place and until the investigation concludes no other information is available at this time."
The Federal Aviation Administration has been called in to investigate the crash. FAA spokesman Jim Peters said in an email that the plane was a single-engine, home-built aircraft. It reportedly had an engine problem shortly before the crash, he said.
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation spokesman David Winchell said his agency received notice of the crash around 9 a.m. Thursday.
"We have state police helicopters, forest rangers, environmental conservation officers and spill response staff on the ground trying to locate the site of the crash and secure the crash site and determine if there's any fuel leaking or environmental issues," Winchell said just after 11 a.m.
The names of those involved and the type of plane they were flying have yet to be released.