Bad weather and the lack of an emergency beacon registered to the plane are complicating the search for a Piper PA-32 Cherokee that dropped off radar Monday afternoon in the area of the Malaspina Glacier near Yakutat.
Search efforts for the plane and its lone occupant, pilot Alan Foster, have been hampered by rain and low clouds. No Emergency Locator Transmitter was registered in conjunction with the plane, officials said. That's increased the potential search area by hundreds of square miles.
"Had the aircraft been fitted with a 406 MHz ELT, rescuers would likely have been able to focus their efforts on recovery instead of aerial searching," the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center spokesman Senior Master Sgt. Rob Carte said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
The Rescue Coordination Center is organizing the search for Foster, with help from the Alaska Air National Guard, the U.S. Coast Guard, Alaska State Troopers and Civil Air Patrol.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the search was focusing on the pilot's flight path near the last known point where radar contact was lost near the glacier. If that's not successful, searchers will undertake a grid-based ground search, officials say. Search planners and crews are staging closer to the search area to make the most of available daylight and weather.
Foster landed in Yakutat Monday afternoon, fueled up the PA-32 he was flying and took off again, Yakutat police officer Jeff Lee said. The Rescue Coordination Center lost radar contact with the plane just after that, around 4 p.m. Monday.
Yakutat police fielded a 911 call Monday night from the Federal Aviation Administration after Foster, who was supposed to get to Anchorage by 7 p.m., failed to arrive, Lee said. The FAA was calling airports along his flight path, a standard procedure.
A National Guard rescue HC-130 was flying the area to scan for signs of the plane on Wednesday, Guard spokesman Lt. Bernie Kale said. The Civil Air Patrol planned to send six aircraft to the Yakutat area to help with the search once the weather improves, Kale said. Troopers are also assisting in the air search, weather permitting, spokeswoman Megan Peters said.
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