National News

Search Suspended in Plane Crash That Killed ‘Contractor to the Stars’

Posted June 3, 2018 8:19 p.m. EDT

The U.S. Coast Guard said Sunday that it had suspended its search for the remaining two people missing in the crash of a small plane off Long Island that was carrying a prominent builder, Ben Krupinski, his wife, Bonnie, their grandson and a pilot.

Krupinski, whose clients included Billy Joel and Martha Stewart, was once described in an article in The New York Times as a “contractor to the stars,” a quote that his firm, Ben Krupinski Builder, emblazoned on its website.

Police identified the grandson as William Maerov, 22, of East Hampton, and the pilot as Jon Dollard, 47, of Hampton Bays. The bodies of two of the passengers were recovered Saturday.

The Town of East Hampton Police Department said Saturday that the airplane, a Piper PA31 Navajo, had been expected to land at the East Hampton Airport. Soon after the plane crashed at about 2:50 p.m., the police department said, a debris field was found about 1 1/2 miles south of Indian Wells Beach in Amagansett.

After the search was called off Sunday, officials reopened the roadway to the beach in the hamlet of Wainscott, which had served as a staging area for recovery efforts. By 2 p.m., the beach was nearly empty of people, and under a clear sky, a wind-whipped surf churned — a reminder of the difficult search conditions.

Two state troopers were belting their ATVs to a trailer after having finished a patrol along the beach. One trooper said they had recovered some personal effects, believed to be from the plane, that had washed ashore. “It’s been difficult,” he said.

Friends of the couple described the Krupinskis, who were both 70, as forces in the community, both commercially and philanthropically.

“They were people who, in gestures both grand as well as small, made a difference in the lives of individual people and the lives of cultural institutions in East Hampton and in the community,” said Amos Goodman, a financial consultant and the East Hampton Republican Party chairman.

Goodman said that, in 2015, Ben Krupinski hosted his first fundraiser at Cittanuova, an East Hampton restaurant Ben Krupinski owned.

Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Republican whose district includes East Hampton, said in a statement that the Krupinskis were “a larger than life couple everyone knew, loved and respected.”

“They will be dearly missed by their family, friends, employees, and neighbors who adored them, their vision, love of flying, entrepreneurship, and devotion to the East End of Long Island,” Zeldin said.

A 1992 New York Times profile of Ben Krupinski described him as “the man behind the curtain, as deft at sanding the splintered edges of clients’ egos as he is at sanding a piece of mahogany.”

The National Transportation Safety Board had begun an investigation into the cause of the crash, a spokesman, Terry Williams, said Sunday.

He noted that the plane had not yet been recovered. Among other things, he added, the safety board was obtaining information on the pilot’s record, the plane’s maintenance records and the weather, and would be talking to any witnesses who may be available.

Williams said a preliminary report would be released in about a week or 10 days, but it could take a year or longer for a final determination on the cause of the crash to be released.

“We’re in the very, very early stages of this investigation,” Williams said.

A Coast Guard spokeswoman, Lt. Alaina Fagan, said Sunday that her agency would now assume a support role for the East Hampton Police Department, which, she added, had a dive team that on Monday would reassess when the search for the plane’s fuselage could continue, depending on weather conditions.

At the East Hampton office of Ben Krupinski’s construction company, family members gathered late Sunday afternoon to begin making funeral arrangements.

A few miles north, at East Hampton Point Marina, a harbor property owned by the Krupinskis, a flag flew at half-staff alongside the patio of a new tenant, Moby’s restaurant. One staff member of the restaurant said the business opened recently and employees wanted to honor the Krupinskis.

People who knew the Krupinskis were in shock at the news of their deaths, although the couple’s legacy would be lasting, said one longtime friend, Jerry Della Femina, the advertising executive.

“The celebrities needed a celebrity to build their houses — it was Ben,” he said, adding that much of what Krupinski did was behind the scenes.

“If there was a door that had to be fixed, a work hung at the library, a piece of asphalt that needed someone to take care of it,” Della Femina said, “He was the guy who would do that.”

“This is a sad, sad way to lose him,” he added, “but he won’t be leaving us in this town."