South Carolina

Mystery grows over fate of aircraft that vanished off Charleston. Search is suspended.

US Coast Guard crews have searched 3,000 square miles for the downed civilian aircraft 110 miles east of Charleston, South Carolina.
US Coast Guard crews have searched 3,000 square miles for the downed civilian aircraft 110 miles east of Charleston, South Carolina.

The U.S. Coast Guard reported Sunday that it has suspended its search for a small civilian plane that vanished from radar Thursday off the coast of South Carolina.

Later Sunday, WCSC reported that the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the disappearance of the plane.

Five people were aboard when it disappeared from radar and their fate remains a mystery, according to the Charleston Post & Courier. Their identities have not been released.

“It is with a heavy heart that we suspend our search for the missing aircraft and its five passengers,” USCG Capt. John Reed said in a press release. “I have spoken with the family of those that were on this plane and extend my deepest sympathies to them and all those who have been hit by this tragic loss at sea.”

Coast Guard officials reported in a tweet shortly after 8:30 a.m. Sunday that they had searched 3,516 square miles of ocean before suspending the search.

The search area was centered about 110 miles east of Charleston, USCG Petty Officer Ryan Dickinson said. The Coast Guard Cutter Hamilton continued searching throughout the night Saturday, said a tweet.

Coast Guard officials said they learned at 11:33 a.m. Thursday of a civilian aircraft that had communicated details of “an in-flight emergency.”

The Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center reported it lost contact with the aircraft on radar about the same time, said a release.

The Piper PA-31 was heading for the Bahamas when it disappeared, officials said. The plane can seat up to seven people, in addition to the crew, reported USA Today.

The Federal Aviation Administration told the Charleston Post & Courier “it would not confirm specifics about the plane until it’s found and its occupants are identified,” the newspaper reported.

The plane left Robert F. Swinnie Airport in Andrews, South Carolina, on Thursday morning, according to WCSC. Andrews is about an hour south of Myrtle Beach.

The Flight Safety Foundation’s Air Safety Network reported that a Piper PA-31T Cheyenne went missing in the Atlantic Ocean at 11:33 a.m. Thursday.

The Flight Aware plane tracking website shows the twin-engine plane, tail number N555PM, taking off from the small airport in Andrews, flying out over the ocean before turning back after about 30 minutes and heading towards Charleston. Then the plane disappeared from radar, the track shows.

The plane was bound for Governor’s Harbor Airport in the Bahamas, the South Strand News Reports, before being diverted to Charleston at 11:18 a.m.

FAA records show the turbo-prop plane, built in 1976, belonged to the Bulldog Flying Club, registered in Wilmington, Delaware.

The FAA will not confirm who owned the plane until it is found, Fox Carolinas reports.

Charles Duncan: 843-626-0301, @duncanreporting
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