Search Suspended for Missing Cessna in Hawaii

HONOLULU — The U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search after sunset today for three people missing in a sightseeing Cessna 172 last seen in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Tuesday afternoon.

The Coast Guard will continue to monitor the area for the missing aircraft’s emergency locating transmitter (ELT). The Coast Guard does this through a search and rescue satellite system that receives signals and updates in its Honolulu command center.

In addition, the Coast Guard will continue to partner with the Hawaii County Fire Department, Civil Air Patrol, National Park Service and Good Samaritans on scene if developments are reported. Coast Guard aircraft and air crews will be mobilized immediately from Air Station Barbers Point on Oahu if the search is re-activated.

“It’s always a difficult decision when we suspend a search,” said Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Floyd, supervisor of the Fourteenth Coast Guard District’s Command Center in Honolulu. “As search and rescue professionals, we hate to report we haven’t found anything. Our hearts go out to the families and friends of those aboard the Cessna.”

Floyd and his team of search and rescue controllers planned searches for more than 35 Coast Guard sorties (flights) over the Big Island on this case. The Coast Guard is confident the area in question was saturated with as many assets as could be brought on scene, Floyd said.

Weather was reported as “favorable” by Coast Guard pilots this morning – with winds out of the East at 10 knots, a ceiling of 2,300 feet and good visibility at the center of the main search area, an area on the southeastern slope of Mauna Loa. Coast Guard pilots said the weather in that area was changing by the hour, with rain and clouds hampering visibility at times, but most of the planned searches were completed.

Since Tuesday afternoon, the Coast Guard scoured more than 10,000 square miles – an area almost two and a half times larger than the size of the Big Island. The Coast Guard launched two HH-65 Dolphin helicopters and two C-130 search planes at first light Thursday. The air crews flew patterns above the Ka’u Forest Preserve, around Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, in and east of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and offshore.

The Coast Guard, Hawaii County Fire Department, a Civil Air Patrol team and dozens of Good Samaritans saturated essentially the southern portion of the Big Island and offshore Thursday.

The plane was reported missing to the U.S. Coast Guard by the FAA at 3:15 p.m. Tuesday.

The Coast Guard suspended the active search this evening when the last C-130 search was completed just after sunset. Although the Coast Guard’s active search efforts are suspended, its units will continue to monitor the area for significant sightings and additional information.

“We had a good idea of where the plane had been and where it was going,” said Floyd, who helped direct the Coast Guard’s search by working with the Big Island’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in Hilo. “We also took into account potential exit routes the pilot may have taken if he’d gotten into trouble near the last known position. We tried to take into account every place that aircraft could have been.”

Floyd said the seamless partnership with the Big Island’s EOC and teamwork with ground units and other aerial searchers were instrumental in ensuring the search area was saturated.

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