WESTERLY — Officials with the Federal Aviation Administration are investigating the origin of a large, white aircraft hatch that washed up on Dunes Park beach Thursday afternoon.
Westerly Police Chief Edward St. Clair said Westerly police officers retrieved the 6-by 4-foot fiberglass hatch, believed to be from a glider, around 5 p.m. on Thursday, and alerted the FAA and the U.S. Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard First District office passed the information on to the FAA, suspecting that the hatch came from the aircraft that crashed in Long Island Sound on Monday morning.
Robert Simpson, a public affairs specialist with the Coast Guard, said that while they could not confirm the correlation, the piece appeared to match up with the single, small-engine aircraft crash. Divers from a nearby fire department found the body of the pilot, who was pronounced dead by a Suffolk County medical examiner, according to a New York Times report on the crash.
The hatch has been picked up from the Westerly Police Station and is being held at the FAA Flight Standards District Office in Framingdale, N.Y., according to FAA public affairs official Jim Peters.
“We have not yet identified that the part came from the plane that crashed in Mattituck waters,” Peters said. “The investigation is ongoing.”
Dunes Park lifeguards James Sleboda and Sam Borecki first spotted the hatch adrift in the water near the park’s stretch of shoreline around 4 p.m.
“At first, I didn’t know what it was,” Sleboda said. “I thought it was a piece of driftwood.”
As the unidentified object drifted closer to shore, Borecki brought it back to land, Sleboda explained.
“Even when we got it out, we thought it was a part of a boat or something,” he said. “Then we saw the ‘do not open during flight’ sign, and that pretty much gave it away.”
Sleboda noted that the lightweight fiberglass hatch appeared to be in good condition, with no visible scratches or demarcations, except for the word “experimental” written on the underside of the piece.
Dunes Park employees also believed the hatch may be a piece from Monday’s crash, according to a post on the park’s Facebook page.
The cause of the crash remains under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, according to Peters.