Steamboat Springs The Colorado Civil Air Patrol continued searching Saturday for a small plane that disappeared in rural Northwest Colorado, but as was the case the past three days, the search came up empty.
Using a dozen planes and two helicopters based out of Steamboat Springs, Civil Air Patrol volunteers from three states combed an area between Meeker and Winter Park without luck. The search area extended 35 miles to the north and 35 miles to the south of the line between Meeker and Winter Park.
Thus far, the Civil Air Patrol has searched an area of roughly 6,480 square miles with no sign of the plane, said Jim Alsum, a 32-year Civil Air Patrol veteran who is commanding the search.
"Nine chances out of 10, they're down in the trees," Alsum said. "If it were just the plains, we probably would have found them by now. But if they're in those pine trees, the only way you're going to spot the plane is if you are directly over the top of it and you're looking down."
The plane, a blue-and-white Cherokee-180, was last seen Tuesday afternoon taking off from the airport at Meeker, where it had stopped to refuel. On the plane were four men from Reno, Nev. pilot Dan Filippe, Ross Jones and brothers Jon and Mark Peters. The men were trying to get to the Jefferson County Airport in time to attend Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals in Denver. The plane never arrived and the Civil Air Patrol began its search on Wednesday.
Authorities speculate the men may have been in a hurry to get to the 6 p.m. game and the weather could have been a factor, along with Filippe's flying experience he had between 600 and 800 hours of flying time.
There was no radar contact with the plane once it left Meeker. And thus far, searchers have not picked up a signal from the plane's emergency locator transmitter. The ELT would sound automatically if the plane went down, but Alsum said the transmitter could have broken on impact or the antenna could have snapped, making the signal extremely weak.
With a strong battery, the ELT could emit a signal for four to five days, Alsum said.
Clouds forced the search to end early Saturday afternoon. Alsum said the search would resume today.
He said the Civil Air Patrol still has a lot of territory to search before giving up the plane for lost.
"We keep close track of where we fly and develop a percentage of probability (of not finding the plane) based on that," he said. "If the percentage gets too high, then we start considering closing the search, but we're not close to that yet."