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Couple: Crashing plane veered at last moment

Search for aircraft's crew to resume in morning

Rescuers investigate debris at the crash site.
Rescuers investigate debris at the crash site.

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Rescue workers search the crash site in Nantucket Sound, Massachusetts.
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Air Transportation
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)

HYANNIS, Massachusetts (CNN) -- A couple boating in Nantucket Sound on Tuesday afternoon told investigators that they believe the pilot of a crashing commuter plane must have steered the aircraft away from them at the last minute, a Massachusetts State Police trooper said.

The plane hit the water 75 yards from the couple and showered the area with debris, Trooper John Kotfila told CNN.

"The wife was, you know, very shaken up. The husband was shaken up," Kotfila said. "But they wanted to make sure we understood what they saw."

The two members of the Colgan Air flight crew are still missing and no bodies have been recovered, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. The search for the crew was called off at dusk, just hours after the 3:38 p.m. EDT crash. Officials expect to resume the search Wednesday morning.

Colgan Air identified the crew members as Capt. Scott Knabe, 39, of Cincinnati and 1st Officer Steven Dean, 38, of Euless, Texas.

The witnesses were not hurt, Kotfila said.

They described the plane coming in at a 45-degree angle. At the last second, the couple said, the aircraft veered sharply to the left.

The crew members were the only two aboard the flight from Hyannis to Albany, New York, according to the FAA. The agency said the flight did not have passengers because it was flown only to move the plane or crew from one airport to another.

The plane was found in about 20 feet of water soon after the crash.

Knabe was hired as a first officer at Colgan in 2001 and upgraded to captain in January of this year. He was based at Hyannis and had 2,886 hours of flying time, half of them in the Beech 1900, Colgan Air said.

Knabe had an accounting degree from Ohio State, held an airframe and power plant license and performed aerial surveys before joining Colgan, the company said.

Dean was hired last year, the company said. He also was based in Hyannis and had 2,500 total hours of flying time with 682 in the Beech 1900.

Before joining Colgan, Dean was a flight instructor on single-engine aircraft, a pilot for a Dallas company, and a flight simulator instructor, the company said.

A vice president with Colgan Air, Mary Colgan-Finnigan, said the company was "anxiously awaiting" news about the crew. She said the airline has been operating since 1971 and has never had a fatal crash.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were on the scene, officials said.

The aircraft had just left Barnstable Municipal Airport on Cape Cod when an emergency was declared, Colgan-Finnigan said. Colgan Air operates as a US Airways Express carrier. It does not operate passenger flights from Hyannis to Albany, according to its Web site.

The plane was en route back to Hyannis but crashed three miles south of the airport into Nantucket Sound, FAA spokeswoman Arlene Salac said.

The Beech 1900 twin turboprop could hold the two crew members and up to 19 passengers.

Another US Airways Beech 1900 was involved in a fatal crash shortly after takeoff in January. That crash happened after the flight, operated by Air Midwest, took off from Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

The plane crashed less than a minute after takeoff, killing all 21 people aboard. The NTSB has said preliminary evidence in the investigation points to improperly adjusted elevator cables as a cause of the crash.

Cape Cod is a popular vacation spot on the East Coast and boasts the summer homes of dozens of the rich and famous -- including the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port.

-- CNN Producers Mike Ahlers, Beth Lewandowski and Michael McManus contributed to this report.

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