Police say possibly two survivors spotted near plane wreckage
By ADAM GORLICK, Associated Press Writer
SHEFFIELD, Mass. (AP) – A helicopter spotted what may be at least two survivors Monday near wreckage of a small plane reported missing with a New Hampshire family of seven on board, state police said.
The wreckage was spotted in the Beartown State Forest, a mountainous area near the Connecticut and New York state lines, said State Police Lt. Paul Maloney.
Ground crews were on their way to the area and rescuers may be dropped in by air, Massachusetts State Police Sgt. David Paine said.
The site is about five miles east of the Great Barrington airport, where the plane was reportedly headed. There was no other immediate word on the conditions of those aboard.
Searchers had been combing the area along the boundaries of the three states for any sign of the single-engine Piper Cherokee Six. Flight controllers lost radio contact with the plane shortly after 6:30 p.m. Sunday.
The Keene, N.H.-area family, including five children, had been flying home after a visit in Pennsylvania, State Police Lt. Paul Maloney said. He declined to reveal their names.
Temperatures in the mountains were in the single digits early Monday with gusty 15 to 30 mph wind.
The pilot, en route from Harrisburg, Pa., to an airport near Keene, radioed controllers Sunday evening. He said he was having problems with icing and planned to land at the Great Barrington Airport, said Jim Peters, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration.
Peters said the last radio contact with the plane was shortly after 6:30 p.m. Sunday when the pilot reported he had descended to an altitude of 2,500 feet. “He indicated he was OK and heading to Great Barrington,” Peters said.
The owner of the plane was listed as Ronald K. Ferris of 359 Flat Roof Mill Road in East Swanzey, N.H., according to Peters.
Peter Dower, an employee at Ferris’ used car business in Swanzey, said Monday that he had not heard from Ferris. He said Ferris had piloted a plane carrying his wife and five sons and that they had been returning from a vacation in Florida during school break.
“I work at his business; I’ve been concerned because I haven’t heard from him myself. He was supposed to be on the way back from Florida last night,” Dower said.
Before Ferris and his family left, “We (Ferris and Dower) went up for a flight to make sure everything was OK, for an hour just before he took the trip. I was with him,” Dower said.
A ground search was launched about 1 a.m. Monday by Sheffield firefighters and rescue workers.
A state police helicopter took over the search in Massachusetts at dawn. The search was later expanded to encompass a 48-mile radius from Sheffield, including adjacent areas of New York as well as Connecticut, Maloney said.
MONTEREY, Mass. (AP) - They had been searching the mountains and forests all morning when the missing plane was finally spotted, its nose buried in snow, a child waving nearby and an arm moving stiffly back and forth through an opening in the battered fuselage.
After rescuers were lowered Monday from a helicopter to the site, they found a remarkable sight amid the frozen carnage: Three young boys and their father had survived both the crash and 18 hours in bone-chilling cold in a remote Massachusetts state forest.
Ronald K. Ferris, 39, later died in Fairfield Hospital in Great Barrington after he suffered a heart attack. His wife, Tayne, and two other sons, Shawn and Kyle, died when the family's small plane crashed 1,700-feet up Mount Wilcox.
But three of the couple's boys - Ryan, 2, Jordan, 5, and Tyler, 10 - survived the ordeal and were listed in critical condition Monday night in Albany Medical Center Hospital.
"I'm totally amazed. They're very, very tough to have made it through the night," said Richard Toman, state police civilian search and rescue administrator. "This is the stuff movies are made of."
New York State Police Sgt. T.J. Corrigan, who hovered in a helicopter above the crash site looking for survivors, said he saw a small child moving about 40 feet away from the plane's cabin. It was not clear whether the child had been thrown from the fuselage or had crawled from it.
As Corrigan waited for more personnel, minutes later, someone - possibly the father - put an arm out of the cabin, waving to the helicopter. When rescuers on foot arrived, the father was cold and confused but talking, medical workers said.
"It was shock and horror at the same time, because now there were people alive but the elements outside would quickly take their toll," Corrigan said. "And I didn't see any gloved hands or hats, it was street clothes."
The rescuers dropped to the crash site from helicopters and wrapped the toddler in a thermal blanket. When they searched the cabin, they found the family's luggage, CD players and clothes "all over the place," said Charles Rappazzo, an EMS worker from Colonie, N.Y.
They also found more survivors, apparently shielded by the bodies of their mother and another sibling.
"It was just amazing just to see the kids on the bottom of the pile that were still alive," Rappazzo said. "What probably kept them alive was the fact that they were shielded ... basically that the mother that was on top of them kept them warm."
Ronald Ferris, who, with his wife, owned an auto dealership in Swanzey, N.H., was passionate about flying. On the dealership Web site, Ferris offered customers who bought his cars a free flight, saying "Ron loves to fly."
The family flew home from Lakeland, Fla., at about 1 p.m. Sunday. As the pilot flew north, he radioed air traffic controllers twice to change his flight plan. Controllers spoke with the pilot when he radioed to report ice on the plane, and was planning to make a visual approach to Barnes Airport in Westfield, according to Jim Peters, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration.
The last time air traffic controllers heard from the plane was about 6:50 p.m. Sunday.
When the rescuers found the plane just after noon Monday in Beartown State Forest, a mountainous area near the Connecticut and New York state lines, the fuselage was almost intact. Had the weather been warmer, the outcome might have been different, Corrigan said.
"I know it was a family, a mother and father and their kids, and now it's a broken family. So it's sad to know it didn't have a better outcome," Corrigan said.