The longtime pastor of a Jamestown Catholic Church was killed Monday morning in the crash of a twin-engine plane shortly after taking off from Chautauqua County Airport.
Monsignor Antoine P. Attea, a well-known priest and experienced pilot, was headed to Buffalo Niagara International Airport in Cheektowaga when his Aerostar aircraft went down about 100 yards from the end of the runway in the Town of Ellicott, outside Jamestown.
Attea, 73, was the only person on board. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Attea had served as pastor of St. James Church since 1978. He also was pastor of Our Lady of Victory Church in Frewsburg since 2003 and served as the episcopal vicar for the Southern Chautauqua vicariate.
Episcopal vicars are considered the bishop's representatives in a region, and Attea is the second episcopal vicar and the third sitting pastor in the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo to die unexpectedly during the past two months.
Attea was expected at Prior Aviation in Cheektowaga at 10 a.m. to pick up three friends before flying to Clearwater, Fla., for a two-week vacation, said Monsignor Dino J. Lorenzetti, a retired priest.
The plane crashed near West Oak Hill Road, shortly after taking flight from Runway 7 at Chautauqua County Airport.
The Ellicott Police Department received an emergency call at 9:48 a.m.
The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board were investigating.
It was the first accident at the county airport since the early 1970s, Chautauqua County Executive Gregory J. Edwards said.
Whether Monday's inclement weather, which included rain and heavy winds, played any role in the crash had not been determined.
"There was significant wind, but I don't know if that contributed to the crash. We'll let the FAA determine that," Chautauqua County Sheriff Joseph A. Gerace said.
Attea was a member of the National Association of Priest Pilots and had flown planes for decades, venturing as far as Alaska, the Caribbean and South America. He used to fly supplies to Panama for Catholic missionaries.
"He was an avid flier, going back many, many years," said Jamestown Mayor Samuel Teresi, a member of St. James Church. "The only time he'd go commercial is on a long-jaunt international flight.
"His love of flying and his airplane were superseded only by his love of his family, love of his parish, love of his faith and spreading his faith to other people," Teresi said. "I think he loved the connection between man and machine, and the separation from the earthly environment. He just said it was a peaceful experience."
Attea helped organize a national meeting of the piloting priests group in 1996 at the St. Columban Retreat House in Derby.
Bishop Edward U. Kmiec of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo termed Attea's death a "tragic loss" not only for the two churches where Attea was pastor, but the entire diocese.
"He was dedicated to the priesthood and the people he served," Kmiec said. "His untimely passing leaves a void in Jamestown, and he will be difficult to replace."
His death comes in the wake of that of the Rev. Gary J. Bagley, former director of the Diocese's youth department and pastor of St. Benedict Church, who died Nov. 14, and Monsignor Robert C. Wurtz, also an episcopal vicar, pastor of Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna and a leading force in the drive to make Father Nelson Baker a saint. Wurtz died Dec. 12.
A native of Williamsville, Attea attended Diocesan Preparatory Seminary and graduated from Our Lady of the Angels Seminary at Niagara University in 1955. He received a theology degree from Gregorian University in Rome, where he was ordained into the priesthood in 1958.
"He's all priest, just a very good friend and a very good priest," said the Rev. Nicholas Rossello, a retired priest.
In the mid-1970s, the two priests taught at Cardinal Mindszenty High School in Dunkirk, and Attea, who taught Latin and was the school librarian, introduced Rossello to planes.
"He got me hooked on flying," said Rossello, also a member of the National Association of Priest Pilots.
Attea's most recent plane, which he bought within the past year, was a twin-engine Aerostar with a pressurized cabin, capable of seating up to six people, Rossello said.
"It was a beauty," he said.
Rossello said he, Attea and two nonpriest friends regularly vacationed together in Florida and the Bahamas.
After serving at parishes in Collins Center and Buffalo, Attea was named pastor of St. James in 1978. He co-founded the St. Susan's Kitchen, a soup kitchen that annually serves thousand of meals to the needy in Jamestown.
Survivors include three brothers, Joseph, Martin and William, and a sister, Sister George Marie, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete Monday evening.
Chautauqua Correspondent Joel Keefer contributed to this report.