Kit-assembled hobby plane lacked equipment that might have helped searchers find pilot by now
Hobby pilot Richard Martin remained missing after a fourth day of searching Wednesday. The 82-year-old’s plane lacked equipment that would have made it easier to find by now.
Martin, missing since he departed Dowagiac Municipal Airport Sunday morning, had built the Sonex plane himself from a kit in 2005. That doesn’t necessarily mean the plane was unsafe, but it did lack two devices searchers typically use to find downed aircraft, says First Lieutenant William VanderMolen with the Michigan Civil Air Patrol.
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. “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 are searching 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’ve received about 60 credible tips, geographically scattered, from people who report hearing a plane flying low around the time but no one has reported seeing the plane go down.