Ivette Salmon paced slowly, maneuvering her cane over rocky beach Saturday morning on the shores of Setauket Harbor in search of her only son, a young Queens man whose body has yet to be found after going missing in a plane crash eight days ago.
“I know that he’s dead, but I just want him back,” Salmon said sullenly, with large sunglasses covering her teary eyes. “We can’t stop looking.”
Gerson Salmon-Negron, 23, was aboard a single-engine, four-seat Piper Archer plane returning to Republic Airport in East Farmingdale from a trip to Massachusetts when it crashed into the cold waters just after 11 p.m. Feb. 20.
Three others — student pilot Austrico Ramirez, 25, of the Bronx, flight instructor Nelson Gomez, 36, of Queens, and Wady Perez, 25, of Queens, a friend of Salmon-Negron’s — were rescued from the wreck by Suffolk police Marine Bureau officers.
Dozens of family, friends and fraternity brothers from New York City, New Jersey and Connecticut converged on the cove Saturday and began the search about 7:30 a.m., in time to catch peak low tide.
Alejandro LaTorre, 31, of Staten Island, a member of the Lambda Theta Phi fraternity, New York City Metro chapter, organized the search. LaTorre is Salmon-Negron’s fraternity brother, inducting him about a year ago while at the City University of New York.
The group split into several parties that covered miles of shoreline over a four-hour period. The terrain was mostly flat but rocky with dry and marshy areas.
Specific locations were chosen after LaTorre received information from the dock master on currents and tides, including on the eastern shore where the pilot’s shoe was found; on a northern peninsula; near where the plane landed; and an area beyond that, farther north.
A Suffolk police spokeswoman said Marine Bureau officers have been searching “on a daily basis” and that finding Salmon-Negron is “a top priority.” Two boats conducting sonar and visual searches and the aviation unit participated in the effort Saturday. Police planned to go back out Sunday.
The civilian group concluded its rounds for the day around noon, having not found as much as a boot or coat he was wearing when the plane crashed. LaTorre said he plans to come back next weekend to look again if necessary.
“We know initially the police did everything they could to find him, but we ask that they don’t give up,” LaTorre said. “His 24th birthday is coming up on March 17 — it’s important that we get to him.”
Salmon-Negron’s sister, Darcy Salmon, 39, of Manhattan, said she was helping to look because she needs “closure.”
“Nobody should sleep until he’s found,” Darcy Salmon said. “He’s somewhere here, right in their backyard.”
Before the plane crash, Salmon-Negron was getting ready to graduate with a degree in business administration. He had “really good grades,” his proud mom said.
“He was a young man, very happy, like a clown,” she said, allowing half a smile to peek from the corner of her mouth. “He has big dreams. He was dreaming a lot for me, for him.”
The cold wind blew fiercely across Ivette’s petite frame as she stared out onto the choppy blue waters.
“Now I’m completely alone. He used to take care of me,” she said, clutching a friend for support. “I just want to find him. That’s all I need.”
— With Darran Simon