Search suspended for pilot, plane missing near Port Angeles

The search for a pilot and his airplane that reportedly went down into the Strait of Juan de Fuca near Port Angeles on Tuesday has been called off.

Rescue crews from Canada and the United States covered an area of 1,170 square miles during their search. 

The U.S. Coast Guard has been sweeping the frigid waters since a mayday signal was sent by the pilot shortly before sunset on Tuesday. The pilot had taken off from Ketchikan, Alaska earlier that day with Port Angeles as his intended destination.

"We are throwing just about everything we can to bring this person back to their family," said Lt. Cmdr. Zach Brown said earlier Wednesday.

The search entered its 24th hour on Wednesday as it began with crews searching by air and sea in the north and northwest areas of the waters along Port Angeles.

Crews said they are looking for a downed Cessna 170A and were using the aircraft’s radar tracks to locate an approximate last known location. But, without a witness and 30 to 40 miles per hour winds gusting on Tuesday, locating either was difficult for crews.

"It’s like trying to find essentially a basketball when you’re looking at wave heights three to five feet tall with the wind blowing," said Brown.

"I heard the mayday come out over the radio," said pilot Jeff Well.

Well owns and operates Rite Bros. Aviation out of the nearby public airport and said he landed about 30 minutes before hearing the distress call. He said he spoke briefly with the pilot, but that contact did not last long.

"I asked if he was east or west of Port Angeles," he said. "I didn’t get a response and there was no more communication."

Well says he has made the flight to Ketchikan and back a number of times himself, adding that the weather and other factors would have to be near perfect to make the trip without stopping for fuel.

Search crews continued their sweeps into Wednesday evening but said locating it in waters that can reach 300 meters deep won’t be easy.

"The way things move in the ocean around here is quite unique," said Well.