Suffolk County police divers are working into the night to try and rescue a reported two people from a small airplane that crashed into Moriches Inlet in East Moriches and sank under about 30 feet of water on Saturday afternoon.
A U.S. Coast Guard boat from nearby Station Shinneock was first on the scene after witnesses called 911 reporting the low-flying aircraft sputtering over the east end of Smith Point County Park on Fire Island and hit the water shortly after 3 p.m.
“We’re going as long as it takes,” Mark Avrill, command duty officer at Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound, said after a boom crane truck was brought on the beach at about 8 p.m. to assist in the operation.
Two teams of three divers are alternating in shifts in the 64-degree water as they try to free the victims, a task that became harder when the plane sank upside down and settled on a rock jetty, Deputy Inspector Chris Hatton, chief of the Marine Bureau, told reporters at a press conference near the scene.
He did not speculate on the condition of the victims, although other local news outlets have reported that the pair are presumed dead. Det. Lt. Jack Fitzpatrick, chief of the Homicide Squad, was on the scene.
Federal Aviation Administration and National Safety Transportation Board investigators will continue the probe once police resurface the wreckage. An FAA spokeswoman said the the Globe Swift took off from Spadaro Airport in East Moriches, but it was not immediately clear where it was destined.
Fishermen in the area who reported the crash tried to rescue the pilot and passenger but were unable to open the cockpit door, the Coast Guard said. They tied a rope to the plane to prevent it from drifting while the tide was going out at the time.
Hatton said the witnesses reported a “large chunk” of the plane fell off, althought it was unclear if that was before or after the plane crashed.
The incident came after a single-engine plane crash landed and burst into flames about eight miles away on a Shirley side street minutes after taking off from nearby Calabro Airport in August, killing two and critically injuring a third person. It is also a few miles from where TWA Flight 800 exploded over the Atlantic Ocean on July 17, 1996, killing all 230 on board.
Moriches Inlet, formed by the hurricane of 1938, is considered such a treacherous passage between the ocean and Moriches Bay that it is not marked by buoys because the Coast Guard officially considers it “non-navigable.”
-With Rashed Mian