Saturday, March 17, 2012

Venezuela - Missing plane leads to a working vacation

Submitted photo
Tim Evinger

Klamath County Sheriff Tim Evinger spent a week in February searching for a missing plane in the Venezuelan jungle. Here he is shown flying over possible crash sites in a rented plane. 

Submitted photo
Rappelling

Klamath County Sheriff Tim Evinger practiced rappelling from the skids of a helicopter during his trip. He said he learned how to rappel while on the SWAT team, but needed to learn the commands and hand signals used in Venezuela.

Klamath County Sheriff Tim Evinger spent his recent vacation searching the Venezuelan jungle for a plane missing since February 2009.

Bob Norton and his wife, Neiba, were flying a missionary mission in Venezuela in February 2009. The couple’s plane, a Cessna 182, was loaded to capacity with a school teacher, four indigenous Venezuelans and a full tank of gas.

One of Norton’s passengers had a burst appendix and needed immediate medical treatment.

But the plane never made it.

“It was a horrible, stormy day and they were using an amateur radio for communication,” said Evinger, who founded a team that searches for missing aircraft. “Norton made a call on the radio that was indecipherable and they were never heard from again.”

A working vacation

Evinger and fellow volunteers from the Missing Aircraft Search Team spent a week in mid-February in Venezuela trying to determine what happened to the Nortons.

They interviewed villagers, flew over possible crash sites and investigated “conspiracy kidnapping” scenarios.

“It’s how I like to spend my vacation time,” Evinger said.

Evinger uses skills he gained during his days as a member of the local SWAT team, his search and rescue experience and his abilities as an airplane pilot to hunt down missing aircraft. He has been sheriff since 2001 and announced late last year he wouldn’t run for re-election.

Evinger and team member Bob Edwards, who was best man at the missing pilot’s wedding, interviewed villagers from the region with the help of an interpreter. From the information gathered on the trip, Evinger said they were able to determine the points at which the missing plane was last seen and last heard on the day it disappeared.

“The goal was to narrow the search area,” he said. “But really we’re looking for some closure on what happened to this aircraft.”

The team’s next step is to gather together in the U.S., do an analysis of possible areas the plane might be and figure out where they’ll search if they’re able to return.

“Venezuela is a politically tumultuous country in the middle of an important election,” Evinger said. “Right now we are weighing the risk versus benefits of returning.”

No comments: