Still no sign of small plane and 82-year-old pilot out of Dowagiac, search crews have not given up hope
DOWAGIAC, Mich. - It has been more than three days since Richard Martin was last seen heading northwest from Dowagiac Municipal Airport in his Sonex Plane, bearing Tail Number N569SX.
The search continued Wednesday, with the Civil Air Patrol, friends of Martin’s, and other agencies not letting up efforts to find the 82-year-old and his plane, looking both from the sky and on the ground.
Witnesses say the plane left the airport around 11 a.m. after Martin and his wife got breakfast at Mr. Wahoo’s before he flew out of Dowagiac Municipal Airport, while she waited for him to return in her lawn chair outside his hanger.
She and friends say he is a man of routine and is typically only gone for an hour or two, but this time that wasn’t the case.
There is no requirement for pilots to check out or share a route when flying out of uncontrolled airports like Dowagiac Municipal Airport. Friends say he liked to fly low, so it is likely his flight was never picked up by radar.
It has now been over three days and the search continues. The Civil Air Patrol says crews have spent nearly 50 hours flying grid searches around the area he typically flies and across three states. More than eight aircrafts and 103 members are helping to track him down.
Wednesday, they were seen making a number of routes not too far from Dowagiac.
And they are not the only ones searching. Friends of Martin’s who also fly out of the uncontrolled airport, have been looking nonstop since Martin’s wife made the call of his disappearance around 6 p.m. Sunday evening. They tell us the search has not been easy, but they haven’t lost hope on bringing their friend home.
Among those searching from the sky was Andy Helmholt, a close friend of Martin and the official owner of the missing plane. He told ABC57 that Martin was his original flight instructor more than 22 years ago, adding he built the plane, does repairs on it and still takes it out regularly.
"Dick is an 82-year-old but he's the strongest 82-year-old I know….I wouldn’t be surprised if he's still out there waiting for us to find him. He's just a great, great guy,” said Helmholt.
He says Martin spent more than 2 years building the aircraft, and the FAA inspects it annually.
"Again, it’s a needle in the haystack, with the trees. The plane is shiny aluminum, so that’s an advantage but it's been a challenge,” he added.
He did not have a cellphone or transponder on board, just an iPad and an Emergency Location Transponder (ELT).
The ELT should let off a high frequency in the case of a crash or a rough landing, but there is a number of reasons it may not have gone off.
Finding the ELT would be a game changer in the search that right now is all visual.
They thought they received a possible ping from an ELT in Lawrence, Michigan, on Wednesday, but CAP says nothing came from it.
If you’ve seen or heard anything that could lead to Martin and his aircraft, please reach out to the Dowagiac Police Department at (269)-782-9743, or the Cass County Tip Line at 1-(800)-462-9328.