Frank and Evelyn Amerosa of Utica were aboard an Angel Flight on Friday night when the twin-engine aircraft went down in Ephratah, a sleepy town about an hour west of Albany, according to police and family members.
Officials and family said John Campbell, 70, of Stamford, Conn., was flying the couple back from the Boston area, where Frank Amerosa was being treated for brain cancer.
The bodies of Campbell and Evelyn Amerosa have been recovered from the rural crash site. Dozens of searchers, including a helicopter crew, continued searching the woods and water Sunday for Frank Amerosa, 64, who was presumed dead, said Sgt. Brian Van Nostrand of the Fulton County Sheriff's Department.
Frank Amerosa, a retired trucker, had been diagnosed with brain cancer more than a year ago. Evelyn Amerosa, 58, worked at an area nursing home directing residents in activities like bingo and trips - a job she loved, said her daughter Heather Theobald. She said her mother had been with her step-father for at least 16 years. The couple loved to travel and had recently returned from the Bahamas.
"Very happy, very much love, very optimistic, they did everything for anybody," Theobald told The Associated Press. "There were just very good people. They were loved by a lot of people."
Campbell was volunteer pilot for Angel Flight, a nonprofit group that arranges free air transportation for the sick. 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.
"John loved to fly and truly believed in the mission of Angel Flight. He loved volunteering his time and we take some solace in the fact he died doing something he loved while trying to help others," according to a family statement read to The Associated Press by his daughter Kimberly Conti, of Rutherford, N.J.
Rescue workers on Sunday scoured the woods and searched a big, murky pond where the bulk of the aircraft was submerged. Wreckage from the crash was dispersed over a large area, with pieces of the plane found as far as 5 miles away.
Town Supervisor Todd Bradt said more than 100 rescuers searched for Frank Amerosa into Sunday night but did not find him. The search will continue Monday.
National Transportation Safety Board investigators who returned to the crash site Sunday aim to retrieve the bulk of the wreckage from the water over the next few days, said agency spokesman Eric Weiss. They are looking for smartphones, GPS devices, computer tablets or other items that could "give the investigators some electronic evidence of what happened in the last minutes of flight," he said.
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 plane did not issue a distress call before losing radar and radio contact, the NTSB said.
Terence Kindlon, an Albany attorney who is a volunteer pilot for Angel Flight, said he and another lawyer, Dale Thuillez, had flown the couple to Boston on Friday morning in Thuillez's plane. He quickly found out he had something in common with Frank Amerosa.
"We were both former Marines and had been in Vietnam pretty close together in time," Kindlon said. "We hit it right off. He was a nice guy."
The two lawyers flew back to Albany in Thuillez's plane after dropping off the couple in Boston.
While the cause of the crash remains under investigation, Kindlon stressed that "the standards for being an Angel Flight pilot are rigorous."
Authorities had initially said the bodies of two passengers were found after the aircraft went down Friday night. But Van Nostrand corrected that report Sunday, saying the bodies of the Evelyn Amerosa and Campbell had been found.
Witnesses described the destruction that started in the air above Ephratah.
Joan Dudley, owner of Granny's Ice Cream Shanty, which is less than a mile from the crash site, said she and her employees saw the plane flip, then fall apart Friday night.
"Parts and pieces of it were flying through the sky, and a body fell out," Dudley said.
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.
Berry said he heard a bang, then saw pieces of the plane fall from the sky. The motor fell 50 feet from his neighbor's bedroom, where she was sleeping, Berry said.