NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- A search for a Queens man missing after a small plane crashed into the Long Island Sound, turned into a recovery mission on Monday.
Gerson Salmon-Negron, 23 was the only missing passenger after the plane, a Piper PA-28, went down just after 11 p.m. Saturday in Setauket Harbor near Port Jefferson. Three others, including the pilot, survived the harrowing landing.
Student pilot Austricio Ramirez, 25, was flying when the plane ran into engine trouble and he turned controls over to the 36-year-old instructor pilot, Nelson Gomez. Also on the plane was 25-year-old Wady Perez of Queens.
As CBS2's Emily Smith reported, the 23-year-old Queens man had joined his best friend to celebrate his birthday in Massachusetts. Upon their return the pilot radioed for help as they approached Setauket Harbort.
"Tower 29099, we just had an engine failure," the pilot said during a transmission, "We are going to put it down on the shoreline."
Salmon-Negron was credited with helping others to safety. Other passengers said he helped push them away from the wreckage.
As WLNY-TV's Valerie Castro reported, an Instagram picture of the men is believed to be one of the last ones taken before the plan went down.
Eddie Smith said he immediately ran to his friend's dock when he heard the plane crash Saturday night, but he didn't expect what happened next.
"We heard a gentleman's voice coming from the water screaming, 'Help, help!" Smith told CBS2's Diane Macedo. "It seemed as though his voice was coming from the center of the harbor."
All four men exited the plane into the water. It was pitch black when officers responding to a 911 call made their way to the shoreline.
"We ended up finding two kayaks that were up on a bulkhead behind this house and within about two minutes, two officers came running down the stairs," Schmidt said.
Schmidt said the officers took the kayaks and disappeared into the darkness, but he never saw them again. He said he heard three of the victims had already been rescued, so he believes the voice he heard was Salmon-Negron.
One of the men was wearing a lifejacket and was losing consciousness when officers reached him, police said. An officer used his duty belt to hold another afloat atop a kayak and the third made it nearly to the shoreline when an officer threw him an inflatable ring to grab ahold of.
"If it weren't for the bold actions of the Suffolk County police officers standing behind me, we don't think the three individuals would have survived,'' Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini said at a news conference at the scene Sunday afternoon
The three were treated and released at Stony Brook University Hospital.
Coast Guard officials said the search for Salmon-Negron went on for 18 hours through the night, covering 90 square miles before the agency pulled its personnel from the search just after 10 a.m. Two police department boats and a dive team continued searching the harbor Sunday afternoon.
Nearby residents said the current would be dangerous for even the best of swimmers.
"They run fast, right through to Port Jefferson Harbor, there is a pretty good flow," John Mills said.
On Sunday night, his mother, Ivette Salmon, said even though they didn't find her son, she's hopeful she'll see him again.
"I have some expectations because they didn't find anything, the body or him," she said. "I just want whoever can walk around and look for him to bring him back to me."
Survivors said that when the plane hit the water, Salmon-Negron actually pushed them out of the plane so they wouldn't go down with the wreckage, Macedo reported.
His girlfriend said Salmon-Negron was also the only one of the four who knew how to swim and the other victims said they actually saw him swim to shore.
The downed plane was in a salvage yard on Monday, awaiting federal inspection. Salvage operators marveled at how little damage the plane suffered after crash landing in the narrow harbor.
"There was some kind of mechanical failure, but the pilot did an incredible job, it's still in one piece," Peter Murphy said.
The FAA is investigating and the National Transportation Safety Board will determine the probable cause.
(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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