Saturday, April 07, 2012

Palau continues search for missing men

Palauan authorities will continue searching for three men aboard a Cessna aircraft who went missing last Sunday, said Palau President Johnson Toribiong.

The government has not decided when it will end the search, but Toribiong said it could continue into next week.

The three men -- public safety officers Earl Decherong, 33, and Willy Mays Towai, 47; and pilot Franklin Ohlinger, 58 -- went missing while looking for a suspected illegal Chinese fishing vessel a week ago.

As of last Thursday, the U.S. Coast Guard, Palauan government vessels, and local volunteers had covered 9,000 square miles in their search for the men.

The Coast Guard suspended its search Friday. By then hopes had started to dim that the men would be reunited with their families and friends, said Fermin Meriang, the Palau president's press secretary. That night the Palau government held a candlelight vigil for the men, to which hundreds turned out, said Toribiong.

The plane flown by Ohlinger went down after Palau authorities discovered what they believed was an illegal fishing operation. Police confronted a smaller fishing vessel, and the three men were searching for a "mothership," Toribiong said in a statement.

When the plane ran low on fuel and its navigation system failed, the officers radioed in to say they were gliding into a water landing, though they couldn't see light or land.

Communication with the aircraft was lost around 8:15 p.m. Sunday. The Cessna was from ABA Sky Inc., a company in Palau that provides sight-seeing tours. Ohlinger was assisting police with the operation, the Palau government said.

Of the continued search, Toribiong said, "It's just a matter of concluding it in a way that the families know we did our very best."


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