The search for a Colville pilot who went missing Monday after what was expected to be a one-hour flight continued into Wednesday evening as crews grappled with poor weather conditions and narrowed down a search area.
Terry Coleman, 67, of Colville, left the Colville Municipal Airport around noon. His family contacted authorities after he didn’t return Monday afternoon, according to a news release. His plane, a Cessna 182 Skylane, has an emergency beacon, but no signals have been received.
The Washington State Department of Transportation coordinated two search flights overnight Monday and did not locate a sign of the plane or a crash, according to a news release. By state law, WSDOT coordinates all searches for missing aircraft with local law enforcement and search and rescue groups.
Spokane County Search and Rescue and the Spokane County Sheriff’s Air 1 helicopter have aided in search efforts, according to WSDOT.
Search efforts were relegated to the ground all day Tuesday and through Wednesday morning due to poor weather and visibility, said Barbara LaBoe, a WSDOT spokeswoman. WSDOT deployed an aircraft Wednesday afternoon that flew over areas of Colville that had good visibility at 5,000 feet but low visibility close to the ground, according to WSDOT.
LaBoe said WSDOT was focusing its search efforts between Colville, Ione and Sullivan Lake, based on information Coleman’s family provided about where he was expected to fly. Coleman did not file any formal flight plan, but he was not required to do so.
The Federal Aviation Administration is aware of the search, but the agency, along with the National Transportation Safety Board, won’t become involved until the plane is located and it can launch an investigation into what happened, said LaBoe.
WSDOT asked hunters and other people in the area to search for signs of the plane or a crash but not to form their own search crews.
“We know it’s a tight-knit community and people want to help,” LaBoe said. But “it may actually interfere with the (searches) we have planned” or put people in harm’s way.
LaBoe said WSDOT is noting the phone numbers of people who want to help in case officials organize a mass search.
The search was suspended at 6 p.m. Wednesday but WSDOT plans to resume Thursday morning.
WSDOT has located all aircraft that have gone missing in the last five years, LaBoe said. The last plane to go missing was in the Hood Canal area in April 2017, when satellites picked up a distress message a few hours after the small plane crashed in Olympic National Park.
“It’s not unusual, but it’s maybe once a year or once every other year,” said LaBoe, adding the majority of the searches occur in Western Washington.
A small private plane went missing after a crash in a mountainous, forested area of Okanogan County near Mazama in July 2015. The plane left from Kalispell, Montana, with three people on board and did not make it to its destination of Lynden, Washington.
WSDOT said people who see a plane or evidence of a crash should call 911 immediately. Anyone who has nonurgent tips can email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Stevens County Sheriff’s Office at (509) 684-2555.
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