Still no sign of plane week after crash
Published: October 20, 2012
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ST. CROIX - A full week of searching after veteran pilot Kirby Hodge and three passengers aboard his Piper Aztec aircraft plunged into the dark Caribbean Sea just south of St. Thomas about an hour before sunrise has yielded no signs of the wreckage.
Today, the crews are expected to return to the seas to continue looking.
Hodge and passengers Rachel Hamilton and Darwin Carr have not been found.
A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter located passenger Valerie Jackson Thompson in the water about 2 p.m. Saturday. By then she had been in the water swimming and struggling to stay afloat for more than nine hours. She was taken to Schneider Hospital where she received emergency treatment and has been there since.
Friday's search-and-recovery operation marked the first time since the crash that searchers have had specific data to use to try and find the plane.
Government House spokesman Jean Greaux Jr. said Friday night the search crews began using information provided by the Federal Aviation Administration that gave a more specific location of where the aircraft was when it disappeared from the radar just minutes before 5 a.m. on Oct. 13.
"We requested the data from the U.S. Air Force Rescue Coordination Center in Florida earlier in the week, and they got it to us on Thursday," he said. The data was requested once it became apparent that the search, based on where the plane would have been eight miles out from St. Thomas, turned up no findings for several days in a row, according to Greaux.
Sea Tow, a private company that has been volunteering its time and resources all week, and government assets were back on additional missions Friday, Greaux said.
The last radio contact Hodge had with the FAA control tower on St. Thomas was when he was eight miles away from the King Airport. At that point, he radioed in his location to a recording system at the tower. Greaux said the tower was not operating at that time of the flight either to St. Croix from St. Thomas or from St. Croix back to St. Thomas.
Greaux said the search ended at sunset Friday night and was scheduled to resume at sunrise today.
"The objective remains to locate the passengers and the aircraft," he said. "The search mission will continue as long as it remains practical to do so."
Since the mission turned from rescue to recovery on Monday, Sea Tow, has led the volunteer efforts with a boat equipped with a side-scan sonar device that has capabilities to scan the sea floor to identify any objects that might be the aircraft.
The sonar system on the Sea Tow boat sends out sound waves to create images of the sea floor in 400-foot wide swaths as they traverse a path plotted out by other pilots that showed the most probable route taken by Hodge as he approached St. Thomas.
Friday night Thompson's father, Valencio Jackson, said she had developed some complications and may be hospitalized into next week.
"We are just being patient with her and following the advice and judgement of the doctors," he said. "We are still praying and hoping that she continues to get better, but it was a great ordeal for her. It has all been very traumatic."
Authorities said Thompson told them that she may have been the only occupant aboard the plane who made it out of the aircraft because water was rushing in and the plane was sinking fast.
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email email@example.com.