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Pa. hunters asked to help search for downed plane

April 29, 2006|By DON AINES

ST. THOMAS, PA.

Spring gobbler season begins this morning in Pennsylvania and turkey hunters are being advised to keep their eyes open for evidence of a missing plane as well as the Civil Air Patrol volunteers who have been combing Franklin County since it disappeared Tuesday.

About a dozen airplanes and eight ground search crews were out Friday as the fourth day of the search for a Cessna 172 piloted by David Weiss was wrapping up, said Maj. Wes LaPre of the Civil Air Patrol. The effort was bolstered by two more crews from the Pennsylvania Wing of the Civil Air Patrol that canceled a training exercise to join the search, he said.

Virginia Wing members will join the search today, LaPre said. The effort has already drawn volunteers from Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia looking for the 72-year-old Bethesda, Md., man.

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"We believe we're getting closer. Our pattern of leads is getting tighter," LaPre said Friday evening. The search is concentrating on the Saint Thomas area; due south near the Maryland border and the Waynesboro (Pa.) area, according to LaPre.

"Even if its in areas we've been in before, we attack it from different angles," LaPre said.

In the Waynesboro area Civil Air Patrol members have been interviewing people who reported seeing a plane earlier this week similar to the one Weiss was flying, LaPre said. Combining possible sightings, Federal Aviation Administration radar plots and information about cell phone calls routed through a cell tower in St. Thomas, the Civil Air Patrol is trying to narrow the search.

Weiss took off from Gaithersburg, Md., at about noon Tuesday on what was supposed to be a routine training flight, authorities said earlier this week. Attempts to call his cell phone were routed through the tower in St. Thomas over a period of about three hours on Tuesday, leading authorities to believe the plane might have gone down in that area.

"We came up here with the idea it would be six days," LaPre said of the expected length of the search, which began in earnest in this area Wednesday morning.

LaPre asked hunters to use caution as they head into the woods today, adding that search crew members will be wearing blaze orange vests. Hunters or anyone else that finds evidence of the missing plane should call the Civil Air Patrol in Hagerstown at 301-791-5342.

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