An Arizona Department of Public Safety helicopter has discovered the wreckage of a plane that vanished from radar New Year's Eve.
"The plane was substantially destroyed. It was burned. The pilot did not survive," said Civil Air Patrol Mission Information Officer James Nova. The National Transportation Safety Board is responsible for recovering the pilot's body in the course of its investigation.
The plane, a Cessna 182, disappeared in the mountains between Holbrook and Payson.
A Civil Air Patrol pilot spotted the wreckage of a small plane, approximately 30 miles northeast of Payson. The DPS was contacted to make a closer inspection, and a helicopter was sent to check out the site Tuesday, Jan. 3 around 4 p.m.
It turned out to be the site of an older, uncharted wreck.
"But, when the helicopter took off a few minutes later, it flew over the (Dec. 31, 2005) crash site, which was less than half a mile away," said Nova.
The pilot, whose name has been withheld at the request of his family, rented the plane out of Gunnison, Colo. and refueled in Durango, Colo. He was reportedly flying to Scottsdale to visit his seriously ill father.
"Somehow, Happy New Year takes on a different meaning when you see this kind of stuff," Nova said with a deep sigh.
The FAA is tasked with investigating the cause of the accident.
Nova would normally have been one of the pilots searching, but his arm is in a sling.
Flying a search plane is not a task Nova would characterize as easy. One hopes to find the plane on one hand, and on the other, not.
"We always fly with mixed emotions, but that's why we do what we do," said Nova, who has been flying with CAP since 1999.
On this most recent mission, CAP volunteers logged more than 60 hours of flight time and there were at least 60 people involved in the search.
Nova said the 100 percent volunteer CAP is an auxiliary program of the U.S. Air Force.
"We do terrific stuff, not only on search and rescue but disaster relief. A number of years ago there was a flood in a town called Wenden. We flew rescue dogs there. We were the first aircraft allowed in the air after 9-11."
"The Air Force charts all the existing wrecks in the country, so that if pilots are searching for another aircraft they don't keep going to the old wrecks," said Col. John Varljen, former CAP wing commander for Arizona.
CAP plans to send a team back to the heavily forested area near Chevelon Canyon to try to identify the previously undiscovered crash debris sometime in the next couple of weeks.
"It's an old radial engine aircraft. Who knows how long it's been there. It might be from the '30s or '40s. Maybe we can find some serial numbers," said Varljen.
For more information on CAP, telephone 1-800-FLY-2338 or log onto www.cap.gov.
(Editor's note: The Roundup would like to thank the dedicated volunteers of the Civil Air Patrol for the countless hours of service they provide for our community year-round. From flag ceremonies to search missions, they give their best.)