Community Police & Fire

State calls off search for plane missing from Narrows Airport

Posted on March 20th, 2023 By:

After 13 days, the Washington State Department of Transportation called off the search for a Cessna airplane that has been missing since it took off from Tacoma Narrows Airport on March 6.

The plane, piloted by Rod Cullen of Tacoma, departed the Gig Harbor airport at about 5:30 on March 6. A surveillance broadcast system onboard ceased operating a few minutes later.

The last radar plots from the Cessna showed it plunging toward the ground in a remote, forested stretch of Quinault Tribe land near the Jefferson-Grays Harbor county line. That’s where WSDOT, which coordinates aerial search and rescue, has been looking for Cullen and his airplane.

“This is not the outcome searchers and the many partners had hoped for and our thoughts are with both the family and everyone who worked to try and locate the aircraft,” said a WSDOT news release announcing the decision to suspend the search. “The family has been kept informed of search activities and has been briefed about this decision.”

Rugged terrain

The search focused on a 36-square-mile section of forestland that searchers described as “rugged.” A map released by WSDOT showed repeated flights over that stretch of land by search and rescue aircraft.

Image released by WSDOT shows the flight paths taken by aircraft participating in the search for Rod Collen and his Cessna aircraft near the Jefferson-Grays Harbor county line.

Agencies assisting in the search included the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Tacoma Police Department, Olympic National Park, Quinault Tribal Nation, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, U.S. Coast Guard, the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, Civil Air Patrol National Forensics Radar Team and Washington Air Search and Rescue.

Rod Collen

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. They built a weekend cabin, called the Mushroom House, shaped like a toadstool.

Figurines salvaged from Point Defiance Park’s former storybook-themed attraction Never Never Land populate the woods. The News Tribune and Key Peninsula News wrote feature stories about the Mushroom House.