Pilot rapped after 'fruitless' search

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The Independent Online

A light civilian aircraft which sparked a "fruitless" search after failing to arrive at its destination landed safely in Switzerland, it was disclosed today.

The two-seater fixed-wing plane set off from Cambridge yesterday morning carrying what is believed to be just the pilot, but did not land at Lydd Airport, Kent, as expected.

The pilot, who is thought to be a European national with a Swiss address and an American licence, changed course due to incoming bad weather but did not inform air traffic control.

A seven-hour search involving a Sea King helicopter from RAF Wattisham, Suffolk, and a Coastguard aircraft from Manston was undertaken, but called off last night after failing to find signs of wreckage. The last time contact was made with the pilot was at about 11am.

The search was co-ordinated by the Aeronautical Rescue Co-ordination Centre at RAF Kinloss, with assistance from Coastguards in Kent and Essex.

RAF Kinloss spokesman Michael Mulford said: "He filed a flight plan from Cambridge to Lydd and en route spoke to air traffic while crossing over Southend.

"He was told to cross over the Thames and Medway, but must tell us when he got to the south side and that's what he didn't do.

"That puts us in a situation where we have a missing aircraft. Every airfield in the south east was contacted."

He added: "The fact is he did not obey that air traffic order. We searched with an RAF helicopter and Coastguard colleagues. Between them they clocked up 12 to 14 hours of searching.

"The search was called off last night because nobody had seen anything and no wreckage was found.

"It was not until this morning we established he was found safe and well on the ground in Switzerland.

"His version is that he changed plan half way across the Thames estuary due to a bad weather front he thought he would encounter and flew home.

"He certainly should have told air traffic when he crossed the Kent coast then we wouldn't have had all those hours searching.

"We don't want to waste time on fruitless and unnecessary searches and that's exactly what happened yesterday."

Mr Mulford said it would be down to other agencies, including the Civil Aviation Authority and the Federal Aviation Administration to contemplate taking any action.