Community Police & Fire

Pilot, plane disappear after departing Gig Harbor airport

Posted on March 10th, 2023 By:

A pilot and his plane are missing after flying out of Tacoma Narrows Airport Monday evening.

Rodney Collen, 52, departed the Gig Harbor airport at 5:35 p.m. Monday, March 6, according to flight-tracking records. The Tacoma man turned his 2006 Cessna T182 Turbo Skylane west and flew over Fox Island and Carr Inlet before disappearing from radar in the vicinity of Herron and Tiedman roads on the Key Peninsula at 5:43 p.m.

Missing person report

The Federal Aviation Administration issued a statement to Gig Harbor Now on Friday.

“The Federal Aviation Administration alerted local public safety agencies about a missing single-engine Cessna 182 on Monday, March 6,” said spokeswoman Eva Lee Ngai. “Only the pilot was on board. The aircraft departed Tacoma Narrows Airport in Gig Harbor, Washington, around 5:30 p.m. local time and has not been located. The registration number is N24289. Please contact local authorities for information about the search.”

Tacoma Police received a missing person report from Collen’s wife at 6:31 p.m. Monday, said spokeswoman Wendy Haddow. She said her husband had not been seen since 6:12 that morning and had been behaving unusually. Police contacted the airport, where Collen keeps the plane. His car was there, but the plane wasn’t.

The plane’s flight was tracked until the system stopped working over Key Peninsula. The FAA and Air Force sent out search planes and a Pierce County Sheriff’s deputy unsuccessfully searched the area where the tracker shut off, Haddow said. The case has been assigned to a Tacoma Police detective.

“We are investigating whether something happened to Mr. Collen or if perhaps he just chose not to be contacted,” Haddow said. “They’ll follow any leads they get, but until someone comes up with something new or someone finds something, I don’t know what the next steps will be.”

Haddow encouraged anybody with information regarding Collen’s disappearance or who remembers anything from March 6 they think is relevant to call 911.

Visual flight rules

Airport Manager Rod Propst said Friday that he believes Collen is a tenant at the airport and rents a hangar there from a private company, not from Pierce County. He hadn’t heard about the missing plane and pilot until one of his co-workers mentioned reading about it on social media Friday morning.

“I haven’t heard a word, which is interesting, because nobody called and asked us anything,” he said.

If flying under visual flight rules, as most flights are, Collen would simply ask to depart in a particular direction and once he left airport airspace he’d be on his own, Propst said. If flying under instrument flight rules, he would file a flight plan, with a destination, be in the FAA’s air traffic system and be in radar and voice contact with an air traffic control agency.

“Based on what I’m hearing, that didn’t happen,” Propst said. “He was just VFR.”

All planes carry emergency locator transmitters. An Air Force satellite can ping such a device. Propst said he’s surprised it didn’t come into play.

“It’s as big a mystery for us at the airport as anybody else,” he said.