DURHAM — A search for a small plane continues in a densely forested state park near Raleigh-Durham International Airport, where air traffic controllers lost contact with the aircraft as it prepared to land.
A statement posted on the airport’s website Monday said a North Carolina highway patrol helicopter was scanning the park for heat signatures consistent with a crash landing.
Rescuers from 12 state and local agencies searching in and around William B. Umstead State Park, an approximately 6,000-acre (2,400-hectare) wooded expanse bounded by an interstate, the airport and a state highway.
“It could take a very long time for us to find this plane,” airport spokeswoman Crystal Feldman said shortly before midnight: “No one is going home until this plane is found.”
The Federal Aviation Administration radar lost track of the Piper PA32 at about 7:25 p.m. Sunday as it approached Runway 32, the smallest of three landing strips and perpendicular to what the airport considers its primary runway. Air operations were halted for about 20 minutes as firefighting and rescue units rushed to the wooded area, but the plane could not be located.
The FAA website said the single-engine plane typically has around six seats. Feldman couldn’t say how many people were aboard the private aircraft.
The airport authority’s president and CEO, Michael Landguth, described the state park as having “few roads and little to no light.” He called recovery efforts in remote areas “extremely challenging.”
The search area has been narrowed to Umstead Park. Officials from RDU said in a press release that when the plane is found, its location will determine which agency will secure the site. At that time, the National Transportation Safety Board will lead an investigation.
“Authority personnel will continue to support the agencies involved in the search and rescue effort,” said Landguth. “We ask that people avoid the area around Umstead State Park while search and rescue efforts are underway.”
North State Journal contributed to this report.