Searchers late Saturday night recovered the bodies of two men from the cockpit of a single-engine plane that had sputtered and plunged to the bottom of Moriches Inlet hours earlier, the U.S. Coast Guard said.
The aircraft, which had been upside down on a jetty under as much as 30 feet of water, was also retrieved.
The salvage happened at about 11 p.m., said U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Erik Swanson.
The plane sustained "moderate" damage when it crashed shortly after 3 p.m., he said.
He said that the inside of the plane had filled with water, and because the men had been trapped there for several hours, they were presumed dead soon after the crash.
The names of the victims weren't released by authorities.
The sunken plane -- a Globe Swift from the early post-World War II-era -- had departed Spadaro Airport in nearby East Moriches, according to Arlene Salac, a Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman.
Witnesses on a nearby beach reported hearing the plane sputter and seeing pieces of the tail flying off, according to Suffolk police, who said 911 operators received multiple calls about a low-flying plane, beginning about 3:06 p.m.
Before the plane sank, near the far eastern section of Fire Island, people in nearby vessels tried unsuccessfully to pry open the cockpit, Swanson said, adding that they looked inside and saw the occupants, who appeared unconscious. They also tried in vain to keep the plane above water by tying a rope to it.
Scott Weiss, a volunteer firefighter with the East Moriches Fire Department, said late Saturday afternoon that rescuers faced heavy tides.
They also had trouble accessing the cockpit because the aircraft was resting against a jetty. Two teams of three divers each took turns going into the water, police said. They stopped work at about 9:45 p.m.
Deputy Insp. Christopher Hatton, commanding officer of the Suffolk County Police Department's Marine Bureau, told Newsday before the bodies were recovered that rescuers were bringing in a crane by land to raise the wrecked plane. It wasn't immediately known last night whether it was the crane that rescuers ultimately used to retrieve the plane.
Susan Spadaro, who with her father, Bart Spadaro, owns the small airstrip, said she had lunch with the men before they took off Saturday afternoon.
"I was the last to see them both," she said. "They gave me a hug."
She said the men had traveled to the airport after attending an event held by the Experimental Aviation Association at Brookhaven Calabro Airport, which takes young people on flights.
Earlier, the Coast Guard had erroneously said the two victims were a man and a woman.
The crash will also be investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board. A senior investigator for the board, Tim Monville, will handle the case starting Sunday, said spokesman Terry Williams.
At the time of the crash, many vessels were in nearby waters for a fishing tournament, Weiss said.
"I'm surprised no one got hit," he said.
With Kevin Deutsch,
and Mark Harrington