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Missing pilot found dead in plane crash north of Dowagiac

The four-day search for missing 83-year-old hobbyist pilot Richard Martin has come to an end.

A Michigan State Police helicopter spotted his small plane Thursday in a densely wooded area about two miles north of Dowagiac. Authorities on the ground then confirmed Martin’s identity.

Martin had been missing since his experimental, hand-assembled kit plane took off from Dowagiac Municipal Airport Sunday morning. The Michigan Civil Air Patrol aided state police in searching from the air.

Martin might have been found sooner if his plane contained two devices that searchers typically use to find downed aircraft, Michigan Civil Air Patrol First Lieutenant William VanderMolen told WVPE on Wednesday.

The first thing it lacked that most planes have is an Emergency Locator Transmitter, which sends out a radio signal that other pilots can easily pick up.

Martin’s plane also didn’t have an Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast transponder. That lets air-traffic controllers track a flight’s location and altitude, producing a historical record.

“So we’re mostly just relying on planes doing grid search patterns and looking out the window with their eyes, sending our ground teams in vans just looking out the windows on the field,” VanderMolen said Wednesday. “And some of the ground team members also are just interviewing people and asking if they’ve heard or seen anything.”

About 100 Civil Air Patrol volunteers had searched for Martin’s plane, by air and in vans covering a roughly five-county area from Holland to the north, and south to around Benton Harbor. They received about 60 credible tips, geographically scattered, from people who report hearing a plane flying low around the time but no one had reported seeing the plane go down.

Parrott, a longtime public radio fan, comes to WVPE with about 25 years of journalism experience at newspapers in Indiana and Michigan, including 13 years at The South Bend Tribune. He and Kristi live in Granger and have two children currently attending Indiana University in Bloomington. In his free time he enjoys fixing up their home, following his favorite college and professional sports teams, and watching TV (yes that's an acceptable hobby).