Community Police & Fire

Search continues for plane, pilot missing from Tacoma Narrows Airport

Posted on March 14th, 2023 By:

The search continues for a plane that disappeared after leaving Tacoma Narrows Airport more than a week ago.

Rod Collen departed the Gig Harbor airport in his 2006 Cessna T182 Turbo Skylane at 5:35 p.m. Monday, March 6. The 52-year-old Tacoma man was the only person onboard.

Onboard surveillance system malfunctioned or turned off

A few minutes into the flight, the plane’s Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast system was turned off or malfunctioned over Key Peninsula. Tracking systems used by air traffic controllers could no longer see the Cessna.

2006 Cessna T182 Turbo Skylane

A radar forensics team found other returns that placed the plane near the Pacific Coast between Lake Quinault and Queets, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation, which coordinates aerial search and rescues. The final radar plots show the plane descending rapidly toward the ground.

No signal has been detected from the plane’s emergency locator transmitter, but search officials have narrowed the area to a 36-square-mile section of rugged forestland. The area is on Quinault tribal land near Queets and the Jefferson-Grays Harbor county line.

Weather hampered search

Search efforts began the night of the disappearance and included air searches on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday (March 7, 8 and 10). Those were the only days weather allowed for safe flying by WSDOT and Coast Guard aircraft. Even then, snow on the ground hampered searchers’ ability to spot the plane from the air.

The weather cleared up enough to permit a state Department of Natural Resources helicopter to search for several hours Monday afternoon. Quinault Tribe emergency management crews also flew a drone over the area.

Improved weather today (March 14) will allow for two aircraft and the tribe’s drone to search the area.

Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputies and Quinault tribal members have patrolled roads, but the area is too large and rugged to send in ground crews until the search site is condensed, according to WSDOT. The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, Tacoma Police and Air Force Rescue Coordination Center are also participating in the effort.

Anyone who thinks they saw or heard the plane on March 6 or spotted anything in the area should call the state emergency operations center at (800) 258-5990. Its tail number is N24289.

Collen lived in the Gig Harbor area for several years. He and his fiancée bought two forested acres in Lakebay on Key Peninsula in 2018 and built a weekend cabin called the Mushroom House because it’s shaped like a toadstool. The woods are populated with figurines salvaged from Point Defiance Park’s former storybook-themed attraction Never Never Land. It was featured in The News Tribune and Key Peninsula News.