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Wallkill Man ID'd As Passenger In Orange County Crash That Killed Pilot

Aaron D. Panken, Ph.D., of Mamaroneck.
Aaron D. Panken, Ph.D., of Mamaroneck. Photo Credit: Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute

The passenger has been identified in a small plane crash on Saturday morning that resulted in the death of a Westchester man.

Mamaroneck resident Aaron D. Panken, 53, president of a leading Jewish seminary, died from injuries suffered when a yellow Aeronca 7AC aircraft crashed into the woods just after takeoff from Randall Airport in Middletown at around 9:30 a.m.

Flight instructor Frank Riess, 65, of Wallkill sustained non-life threatening injuries.

Both men were transported to Orange Regional Medical Center. Panken was pronounced deceased by hospital staff.

Both the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Natational Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) were notified and responded to the scene. The investigation is ongoing.

Panken served as the 12th President in HUC-JIR’s 143-year history, leading the four-campus international institution of higher learning and seminary for Reform Judaism in New York City, Jerusalem, Cincinnati and Los Angeles.

Panken was elected HUC-JIR President by the Board of Governors on July 31, 2013. His appointment was effective on Jan. 1, 2014 and he was installed on June 8, 2014 in Cincinnati.

Ordained by HUC-JIR in New York in 1991, Rabbi Panken previously served as Vice President for Strategic Initiatives (2007-2010), Dean of the New York Campus (1998-2007), and Dean of Students (1996-1998).

He joined the HUC-JIR faculty in 1995, and taught Rabbinic and Second Temple Literature, with research interests in the historical development of legal concepts and terms; narrative development; and development of holiday observances.

Prior to teaching at the College-Institute, he served as a congregational rabbi at Congregation Rodeph Sholom in New York City and as a rabbinical intern at Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale. A native of New York City who graduated from Johns Hopkins University's Electrical Engineering program, Panken was a certificated commercial pilot and sailor.

Panken is survived by his wife, Lisa Messinger, his children Eli and Samantha, his parents Beverly and Peter, and his sister, Rabbi Melinda Panken of Congregation Shaari Emeth in Manalapan, NJ.

Funeral arrangements will be announced.

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