MONTEREY, Mass. — 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 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 in critical condition Tuesday in Albany Medical Center Hospital. All three suffered severe hypothermia and Tyler also had a broken leg, the hospital said.
"Their prognosis is very, very guarded. It's remarkable they have survived," Dr. Kathleen Donnolly, one of those treating the boys, said on ABC's "Good Morning America."
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.
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.
The last time air traffic controllers heard from the plane was 6:50 p.m. Sunday.
When the rescuers found the plane just after noon Monday in the Beartown State Forest, the 10-year-old boy told them he was cold and his arm hurt, said Ronald Goodman, an EMS worker. "He was a nice little guy, and his life had just been shattered."