Houlton pond drained to find airplane cockpit

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HOULTON — The wreckage of a small plane that had gone missing early Thursday morning was found just before 9 a.m. in a wooded area about a half mile from the runway at Houlton International airport.

Parts of the plane were found in a small man-made pond off White Settlement Road and a wing and other debris were found in trees surrounding the area, according to Houlton Police Chief Joe McKenna.

Firefighters from the Houlton Fire Department were draining the pond Thursday morning to get at the cockpit, where officials believe they will find the body of the pilot, McKenna said at about 10:30 a.m.

The police chief said the pilot was believed to be the only one on board the four-person aircraft when the plane crashed at about 2 a.m. Thursday. Police were not expected to release the man’s name until he has officially been identified.

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The police chief said the pilot was well known in the Houlton area because he regularly made stops at the local airport while on his way to a flight school in Florida.

The plane, a twin-engine Piper PA44, was due at the Houlton International Airport around 1 a.m. Thursday after leaving the airport in Goose Bay, Labrador at about 9:15 p.m. Wednesday. McKenna said officials believe the flight originated in Europe and was on its way to Florida.

Officials with U.S. Customs and Border Protection were at the airport in Houlton to meet the plane as it entered the U.S. and reported that it was an hour overdue, McKenna said.

At 2 a.m. the customs officials reported hearing the plane approach the airport on its designated flight path from the south. Soon after, they reported hearing what sounded like the engines failing and a crashing sound.

McKenna said there was “zero visibility” at the time because of fog conditions, and a search was started immediately off the runway.

The plane’s last known contact was with air traffic control officials out of Boston, who confirmed the pilot was on his final approach into Houlton about 4½ miles south of the runway, McKenna said.

Personnel with the Houlton Police Department, Maine State Police, Aroostook County sheriff’s office, Maine Forest Service and border patrol were involved in an extensive ground and air search of the area, which McKenna described as mixed woodland, swamp and mountains.

Because the flight path followed the border with New Brunswick, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police also were involved in the search, McKenna said.

The police chief said Thursday morning that investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board were on their way from Portland.

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