Police plan to resume their search Monday morning for a man missing since the small plane he was aboard crashed into the waters off Setauket Harbor, setting in motion a dramatic late-night rescue of three other men.
A student pilot, his flight instructor and a third friend were saved from the waters after the Saturday night crash on the flight from Massachusetts to Long Island.
Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini said the three men had no time to spare because the cold temperatures could have been deadly.
The Suffolk County Police Department said the search would resume at 9 a.m. Monday.
Missing was Gerson Salmon-Negron, 23, of Queens. The student pilot, Austrico Ramirez, 25, of the Bronx; his flight instructor, Nelson Gomez, 36, of Queens; and Salmon-Negron’s friend Wady Perez, 25, of Queens were rescued by Suffolk police officers, taken to Stony Brook University Hospital, treated and released.
Salmon-Negron’s mother, Ivette Salmon, who lives with him in Elmhurst, Queens, said Sunday they had flown to Massachusetts to celebrate the birthday of Perez, one of her son’s best friends.
“I just want him to show up,” she said. “I don’t care how. . . . He’s my only son.”
She said she last spoke with her son Saturday.
“He told me he was going to Massachusetts,” said Salmon, 59. “He was kidding me and saying he was going to fly. . . . Wady said to me, ‘Oh Ivette, we’re going to Massachusetts by plane.’ I thought they were going by American Airlines or something. I didn’t know they were going to take a private plane.”
Gomez’s daughter, who didn’t give her name, said the family is with her father as he recovers: “We’re all really busy taking care of him. . . . He’s doing pretty good, a few injuries here and there and he’s recovering slowly.”
Sini and officers who took part in the rescue described a harrowing scene in the harbor as responders and the three passengers, now bobbing in the cold harbor waters, yelled back and forth in the dark.
Sini said the officers could hear those from the plane in the water yelling to rescuers, police said. Six officers from the Sixth Precinct commandeered kayaks from residents and paddled out toward the sounds of the men’s voices.
When they arrived, rescuers held two of the men afloat until marine bureau boats pulled them from the water, Sini said.
“These officers went above and beyond the call of duty tonight,” Sini said.
The Setauket Fire Department took the lead and 14 other fire and ambulance departments participated in the rescue effort, Sini said.
Police estimated the three men had been in the water for at least 30 minutes before rescuers were able to pull them to safety.
“They had a struggle out there. It was cold,” Suffolk police Lt. Michael S. Murphy said. Police said some of the survivors wore life jackets.
Eventually Ramirez, Gomez and Perez were pulled from the frigid water, Sini said Sunday afternoon.
Suffolk Officer Charles Scala said when he got to the water’s edge, he shined his flashlight on one person about 100 feet from shore, who was struggling to stay afloat. First, Scala screamed to get the man’s attention, he said. Then, Scala said, he rushed into the water with a life ring to drag the man to safety.
George Klein, a Strongs Neck resident who is a pilot, told News 12 Long Island his wife spotted a strobe light offshore from their home Saturday night. The light glided through the air and then impacted the water. Klein said one of the men made his way to shore near his home and appeared to be in shock.
The single-engine airplane, a four-seat Piper Archer, was raised from the water by a crane about 4 p.m. Sunday. It was submerged about 200 yards offshore.
The plane was heading from Fitchburg, Massachusetts, to Republic Airport in East Farmingdale when engine trouble began, officials said.
Officials with the Federal Aviation Administration, which is investigating, said the plane was about a mile offshore over the Long Island Sound when someone on board reported the engine trouble.
The aircraft landed on the water and Suffolk police got their first 911 call of a downed plane about 11:07 p.m., officials said. The Suffolk marine bureau headed immediately to the scene, Sini said.
Poquott resident Joan Hubbard, 73, who has stairs leading from her backyard to a private beach not far from where the plane went down, said she was tipped off something was unusual when officers rushed through her backyard about 11:30 p.m. Saturday on their way to the water to search for survivors.
Hubbard said helicopters beamed bright lights on the water.
“It’s very sad if someone lost their life,” she said.