EPHRATAH, N.Y. (AP) — Authorities investigating the crash of a volunteer medical flight returned to the site Sunday to scour the woods and a nearby pond for the pilot, who remains missing days after the bodies of two passengers were found.
The search for the third person aboard the Angel Flight that went down Friday evening in the woods in Ephratah, a small town about an hour west of Albany, ended unsuccessfully Saturday. Search crews went back to the crash site Sunday morning, the Fulton County Sheriff's Department said.
Plans called for rescue workers to canvass the woods and divers to use sonar to search a big, murky pond where the bulk of the twin-engine aircraft was submerged. Town Supervisor Todd Bradt has said divers had trouble seeing in the water because it's so muddy, but a piece of the plane was removed earlier.
Wreckage from the crash was dispersed over a large area, with pieces of the plane found as far as 5 miles away, according to National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Eric Weiss. He said one of the plane's engines was recovered outside the pond, but most of the plane is still submerged.
The flight's two passengers were found dead Friday near the crash site, Fulton County Sheriff Thomas Lorey said.
Angel Flight is a nonprofit group that arranges free air transportation for sick patients from volunteer pilots. Larry Camerlin, president and founder of Angel Flight Northeast, said the organization was "tremendously saddened" by news of the crash.
The Piper PA 34 had departed from Hanscom Field in Bedford, Mass., and was headed to Rome, N.Y., before it crashed just after 5 p.m. Friday, Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said. The NTSB said Saturday that the plane did not issue a distress call before losing radar and radio contact.
Officials haven't yet identified the passengers, pilot or cause of the crash. Visibility at the time in Rome was 10 miles, said National Weather Service meteorologist Brian Montgomery. It was slightly raining with winds of 13 to 14 mph.
Witnesses described the destruction that started in the air above Ephratah, a sleepy town of about 700 people.
The parking lot of Granny's Ice Cream Shanty, which is less than a mile from the crash site, was filled with emergency vehicles Saturday morning. Owner Joan Dudley told The Associated Press that she and her employees were among the first at the scene Friday night.
"We were just leaving to get something to eat, and we heard this noise," Dudley said.
"We looked up and saw the plane flipping in the air. Then it fell apart," she said. "Parts and pieces of it were flying through the sky, and a body fell out."
They called 911 as they parked their car and ran to the crash site in the rain to see if they could rescue anyone.
"Airplane parts were all over the place," she said. "They were picking them up all over."
Ephratah resident Roger Berry, 75, said he was outside chopping wood when the plane crashed.
"When I heard it, I knew something was wrong," Berry said. "It made one circle and came back around."
Berry said he heard a bang, then saw pieces of the plane fall out of the air. Although most of the plane landed in the pond, Berry said pieces, including the engine, scattered about the area. The motor fell 50 feet from his neighbor's bedroom, where she was sleeping, Berry said.
Berry said he ran home to get his raincoat, then assisted rescuers by directing traffic.
Angel Flight Northeast said it has set up free air transportation and medical care for more than 65,000 children and adults on about 60,000 flights covering more than 12 million miles. It was founded in 1996.