Small Plane Crashes in Westchester; 2 Men Niftar

By Reuvain Borchardt and Rabbi Binyamin Zev Karman

A Rockland Chaveirim volunteer at the scene of the crash.

NEW YORK — A private plane crashed Thursday evening near Westchester County Airport after experiencing engine issues. The pilot, Boruch Taub, and the one passenger, Ben Chafetz, both of Cleveland, were niftar.

The Beechcraft A36 Bonanza single-engine plane took off at 4:58 p.m. Thursday from JFK Airport in New York, headed for Cuyahoga County Airport in Richmond Heights, Ohio, according to data from FlightAware. Around 5:20 p.m., while over Long Island Sound, Taub reported low engine oil pressure, and attempted to land at Westchester, the closest airport. Chafetz texted his family that there was engine trouble and that the community should say Tehillim. But around 5:30 p.m., communication was lost and the plane crashed in Loudon Point Woods, a peninsula in Rye Lake approximately two miles from the airport.

Another Orthodox pilot, known as “Captain Koz,” who was at Westchester Airport on this rainy and foggy evening, told Hamodia that weather conditions were poor, with clouds were just 200 feet above the runway and visibility one mile, the minimum acceptable conditions for a landing.

Hundreds of emergency personnel descended on the scene, searching for the plane in the difficult stormy and foggy conditions. The FBI pinged the locations of Taub’s and Chafetz’s cellphones, and the plane was found and the bodies were recovered at 10:55 p.m., officials said at a press conference Friday morning.

Organizations including Misaskim, Chesed Shel Emes and Rockland Chaveirim worked with authorities including U.S. Rep. Mike Lawler, Westchester County Executive George Latimer and police brass, Ramapo officials, and Chief Frank Milazzo of the New York City Department of Environmental Conservation (as the Loudon Point Woods is in the New York City reservoir system) to ensure kavod hameis and release of the bodies from the Medical Examiner’s office at 10 a.m. Friday.

“There are special religious traditions that have to be honored,” Westchester County Executive George Latimer said at the press conference. “We made every effort to do that.”

The bodies were flown Friday morning to Cleveland by Hatzolah Air.

Data from FlightAware shows the path of the plane.

The levayah for Ben Chafetz was held Friday afternoon, and the levayah for Boruch Taub was held Sunday morning, both at the Berkowitz-Kumin Chapel in Cleveland Heights.

The niftarim were both well-known and popular figures in the Cleveland community.

Boruch Taub owned a mechanic business called Masterworks Automotive, and learned night sedarim in a community kollel.

Meshulachim frequently visited his business,” a chavrusah recalled. “In addition to giving them donations, he would always give them food from a box of snacks set up for customers.

“He was beloved by all who knew him. Everyone used his shop, and he had a shem tov, he was very ehrliche and honest. Everyone loved him.”

Ben Chafetz had a web-development company. He gave large amounts to tzedakah, particularly kollelim in the community. He was known to deliver impassioned speeches at fundraisers for the local kollelim.

“Ben understood what having people sitting and learning meant to the growth of the Cleveland community and the future of Klal Yisroel,” recalls one kollel member. “He supported it monetarily, and with his actions and words as well.

“He met everyone with a smile; whether he knew you or not, he made everyone feel like he knew them well. He was the sweetest, warmest guy you could ever meet.

“This is an unbearable loss for his wife, children and the entire community.”

Ben Chafetz (left) and Boruch Taub (Berkowitz-Kumin Memorial Chapel)

In 2018, Ben was a passenger on an El Al flight from New York to Israel forced to stop in Athens for Shabbos. That flight was subject of controversy: After takeoff had been delayed for hours in New York that Thursday evening, the Orthodox passengers pleaded to be allowed to disembark, realizing they would not make it to Israel on time for Shabbos; but the pilot took off despite their protests, and landed in Athens just in time for the Orthodox passengers to get off and go to a hotel for Shabbos. Then, two secular passengers wrote on social media that religious people acted improperly in protesting the plane’s having taken off, and El Al shared and promoted these posts. But after Shabbos, the Orthodox passengers took to the media to fight back against what they called false accusations, saying El Al was attempting to cover up its own malfeasance by blaming the Orthodox passengers.

Chafetz subsequently wrote an article entitled El Al-Sponsored Shabbos of Unity, about “an experience and Shabbos I will never forget.”

That Shabbos, Rabbi Mendel Hendel, the Chabad shaliach to Athens hosting the stranded passengers, mentioned to them that his community was still over $100,000 short in their mikvah campaign. The passengers determined to raise the funds. Chafetz used the publicity garnered by his article to solicit donations from the public, and the mikvah was indeed built.

Upon hearing the news of Chafetz’s passing, Rabbi Hendel told Hamodia Friday morning, “Oh, it’s so sad. So tragic.”

“Ben was a very special person,” Rabbi Hendel said. “He was a person of action. When something happened, he would not just take in the news, but he asked himself what he could do about it,” noting that Chafetz was outspoken with media in seeking to correct the record of what had occurred on that flight.

“When we did our mikvah campaign; he took it like his own campaign. He contributed, he got his friends to contribute, and he was always on top of it to see what’s happening. Baruch Hashem we have a beautiful mikvah, which he was very instrumental in making a reality.”

In that 2018 article, Chafetz rejoiced at the opportunity the distressing incident had presented. “How often do we get a chance to be moser nefesh for Shabbos?” he wrote. “This was a tremendous gift from Hashem to us that we had the chance to show Hashem how much we love Him and his Torah, and we ALL took it … Yom Tov in the Beis Hamikdash was probably like this Shabbos. Jews from all over coming together for Hashem and his mitzvos. I hope to see all of my fellow passengers this Pesach bringing korbanos in the Beis Hamikdash.

“May we be zocheh to see Moshiach and the return of the Beis Hamikdash.”

rborchardt@hamodia.com

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