PORT ANGELES — U.S. and Canadian Coast Guard crews suspended their search at 4 p.m. Wednesday for the pilot of a Cessna 170 single-engine plane that went down in rough seas south of Victoria 23 hours earlier, a Coast Guard spokesman said.
Chief Petty Officer Steve Strohmaier said the pilot, whose name he said the Coast Guard will not release for privacy reasons, was en route from Ketchikan, Alaska, to William R. Fairchild International Airport in Port Angeles when his aircraft went into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, north of Ediz Hook and south of the international boundary line.
Air and sea assets conducted 22 search patterns, scouring 1,170 square miles before halting their efforts. No sign of the plane was found.
Strohmaier said the pilot was the aircraft’s lone occupant. It does not appear that he is a Washington resident; his parents live in Alaska, he said.
“We don’t have anything at all saying he’s a resident of Washington state,” he said.
“Everything they have points to him being an Alaska resident but we do not have confirmation of that.”
Strohmaier did not know if the pilot was coming to Port Angeles to refuel and fly somewhere else or to visit someone in the area.
“Unless we get further amplifying information, for example, an exact area to search, or if the [Federal Aviation Administration] gives us the exact coordinates and leads us to believe we have an exact site where the downed aircraft might be at, or the individual might have gone to shore, we just don’t know at this time, search efforts of the Coast Guard and other partner agencies have been suspended,” Strohmaier said.
Strohmaier said the pilot issued a Mayday call late Tuesday afternoon that was received by Rite Bros. Aviation of Port Angeles.
The company, based at Fairchild, reported it to the Peninsula Communication 9-1-1 center in Port Angeles, which notified the Coast Guard at 4:55 p.m.
Jeff Well, president of Rite Bros., said he received the pilot’s Mayday call at 4:40 p.m.
“He said, ‘Mayday, Mayday, I’m going down in the water,” Well recalled Tuesday evening.
The pilot did not appear to be familiar with the area, Well said.
“I asked him to say your location, and he didn’t respond.
“I said, ‘Are you east or west of Port Angeles?’
“He said, ‘I’m going down behind a boat pulling a barge,’ and then, nothing else.”
Well said Wednesday morning a local pilot scoured the approximate area where the pilot went down.
“It was 20 minutes before sunset, and the Straits were just a frothy mess,” he recalled.
“The weather conditions and stuff made it real difficult to see anything with the rough seas.
“Just knowing the conditions, it was just frustrating I couldn’t do more.”
Well declined to identify the pilot, saying he has been in contact with the man’s family. He thought they might live in Kodiak.
Well said they told him the Cessna’s GPS tracker gave the southern tip of Vancouver Island as the pilot’s last known location.
Strohmaier said the pilot hugged Vancouver Island’s Inside Passage before traversing the Strait around Victoria.
“The biggest stretch of open water was going from Victoria to Port Angeles,” he said.
Strohmaier said water and air assets were dispatched from Coast Guard Air Station/Sector Field Office Port Angeles, Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and the Canadian Coast Guard.
The 87-foot Coast Guard patrol boats Adelie and Terrapin Wednesday morning in 12-knot winds. The Canadian Coast Guard’s 272-foot buoy-laying vessel Sir Wilfrid Laurier also joined the effort.
Helicopters from the U.S. and Canadian Coast Guard and Naval Air Station Whidbey Island assisted as well as a Canadian fixed-wing aircraft before the search was called off.
— Paul Gottlieb, Peninsula Daily News, email@example.com. For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.