MIAMI -- Three survivors of a private plane that went down near the Bahamas were rescued yesterday after spending 40 hours in the chilly, shark-infested water of the Atlantic Ocean.
Two other passengers are feared dead in the ordeal, which began Tuesday afternoon shortly after the twin-engine plane took off for Fort Lauderdale, Fla., from Chub Cay.
Dan Tuckfield, 35, and Del Hicks, 58, both of Fort Lauderdale, and pilot Brad Youngberg, 48, of Coral Springs survived two days in the ocean without food and fresh water while trying desperately to save Dottie and Ira Bloom of Charleston, S.C., and their dog, Chocko.
When Tuckfield was rescued, he reported that the Blooms drowned at sea.
Tuckfield was kept overnight at Jackson Memorial Hospital for observation. Youngberg was treated and released.
Hicks was in critical condition in the cardiac intensive care unit. Doctors removed his blood, warmed it and replaced it to try to raise his body temperature, which had dropped to a critical 83 degrees. Normally, the body's average temperature is 98.6.
The six-seat Piper Seneca, which took off about 4:10 p.m. Tuesday from Chub Cay, was in the air about 35 minutes when an engine failed.
"I lost power in the left engine," said Youngberg, a former Eastern Air Lines pilot and Broward County sheriff's deputy. "With five people, it got pretty heavy."
Youngberg brought the plane smoothly down on its belly in the water a few miles northeast of Cat Cay in the Bahamas.
"He did a beautiful landing," Tuckfield said from his bed at Jackson Memorial Hospital. "Hell, nobody banged heads. We went down nose first and landed right on the tail."
The five opened the door and escaped before the plane sank in 15 to 25 feet of water.
Using strips of Velcro from the plane, Tuckfield tied himself to Youngberg, Hicks and the Blooms.
Dottie Bloom held onto Chocko, who survived the crash.
The group had five yellow life vests, but the dog accidentally punctured one. Tuckfield, an expert swimmer, chose to go without.
He dived to the sunken plane and salvaged his wet suit, diving fins and mask. He put on the fins and the rubber mask, which helped keep his head above water. He said he gave the wet suit to Dottie Bloom to help her keep warm.
Darkness fell soon after. The group huddled together through the night.
On Wednesday, the Blooms, both suffering from exhaustion and exposure, disappeared in the shark-infested waters, Tuckfield said.
The Coast Guard, which had mounted a massive search for the missing group on Tuesday, could not confirm that the Blooms were dead. The search was to continue today.
Tuckfield, who left Hicks and Youngberg behind, began swimming to Cat Cay for help. He was found about 6:30 a.m. yesterday and taken to a Bahamian Customs station, about 60 miles east of Miami, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Joe Dye.
From there, Tuckfield directed searchers to Hicks and Youngberg.
John Green, a Coast Guard rescuer, was in a helicopter that spotted a near-lifeless Hicks, with a yellow life jacket still strapped around his neck.
"Once I got into the water, I realized he was in pretty bad shape," Green said. "He didn't say anything. He didn't respond at all. When I put him in the basket, his legs didn't bend."
Another helicopter spotted Youngberg about a mile away about 20 minutes later. Rescuers hoisted him out of the ocean shortly after 9 a.m., said Petty Officer Simone Adair.
The men had spent nearly two days in the water.
Hicks, a fishing boat captain for more than 30 years, suffered from severe hypothermia. His condition was improving late yesterday, his physician said.