Witness describes tragic plane crash

EPHRATAH – Tom Dudley watched as a body flew from a crashing plane Friday night.

Dudley, owner of the Granny’s Ice Cream Shanty and Royal Mountain Campsite on Route 29, said he heard a loud explosion at approximately 5 p.m. Friday evening, looked up, and saw tragedy unfold in the sky.

“My wife said, ‘My God, there’s a plane in trouble,’ and as she said it, it went over our heads and all you could see was the fuselage spinning end over end – it didn’t look like it had any wings on it, and then what looked like a body fell out,” he said.

Fulton County Sheriff Thomas Lorey confirmed Saturday that emergency personnel have found two bodies, the pilot of the twin-engine plane and one of its two passengers. He said the third body has not yet been located, but the person is presumed dead.

Dudley said he observed emergency personnel finding one of the bodies just south of Route 29, as well as one of the plane’s engines and one of its wings.

The fuselage of the plane, which includes the cockpit and passenger compartment, has been found at the bottom of a reservoir owned by Canadian renewable energy company Brookfield Power, which operates a dam near the crash site.

Lorey said a New York State Police dive team has searched the area around the wreckage of the plane and hasn’t found the third body, but it could still be inside the remains of the plane. He said the dive team has not yet been able to search the interior of the wreck because it has been deemed too dangerous. The dive team was attempting to stabilize and raise the structure using inflatable airbags Saturday.

“When we get it to the surface, we will have to search the fuselage completely to see if there is anything in there. We have no idea where the third body is; the debris field is as far as a five miles around the crash,” Lorey said. “We won’t release anybody’s name until we recover the third body.”

Lorey said the wreckage of the plane still has one wing left attached to it.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board will take over investigation of the crash after the third body is located, Lorey said, and those agencies will attempt to determine the cause of the crash and whether weather conditions were factors.

The pilot was associated with Angel Flight Northeast, a division of the Angel Flight not-for-profit flying organization that provides air transportation and volunteer pilots for people with serious medical needs.

Lorey said the passengers were a married couple from Utica, one of whom had been receiving medical treatment near Bedford, Mass., where the plane took off. The flight was scheduled to land in Rome, N.Y. He said the pilot was from Connecticut.

Larry Camerlin, the founder and president of Angel Flight Northeast, released a statement Saturday confirming that the downed aircraft had been part of its charitable flight service.

“Angel Flight NE staff and volunteers are tremendously saddened by this tragedy and we all offer our thoughts and prayers to the families of those affected,” stated Larry Camerlin, founder and president of Angel Flight Northeast. “Our volunteer pilots are the most compassionate and generous individuals who donate their time, aircraft and fuel to transport patients and loved ones for free to essential medical care that would otherwise not be readily available to them. There are no words that can adequately express our sorrow.”

Ephratah Town Supervisor Todd Bradt said the search will resume today to find the third body, using sonar in the pond because visibility is so bad.

“It’s so muddy and murky, they can’t see nothing,” Bradt said. He said a piece of the plane was removed from the pond Saturday – but wasn’t sure which piece or how much is still under water.

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. Most of the plane landed in the pond, Berry said, but parts of it fell all around.

“My neighbor, she was sleeping in her bedroom,” Berry said. “The motor fell 50 feet from her bedroom.”

Berry said he ran home to get his raincoat, then assisted authorities by directing traffic.

Traffic resumed on Route 29 on Saturday, although it continued to be disrupted throughout the day as emergency personnel continued the search for the missing body. Dudley said he had a number of cancellations of reservations at his campsite Friday because traffic could not get through.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.