Search for small plane missing near North Carolina airport

Operations temporarily halted at a busy North Carolina airport after it lost radar contact with an approaching small plane, launching a search by fire and rescue units

DURHAM, N.C. -- Operations were temporarily halted at a busy North Carolina airport Sunday night after it lost radar contact with an approaching small plane, launching a search around a densely forested state park nearby.

A statement posted on the Raleigh-Durham International Airport website said air traffic controllers notified the airport that a small aircraft was lost on radar about 7:25 p.m. as it approached the airport. The statement added that airport firefighting units were immediately dispatched to the vicinity of William B. Umstead State Park, not far from the airport.

The FAA statement said the aircraft was approaching Runway 32, the smallest of three landing strips and perpendicular to what the airport considers its primary runway.

Air operations were halted for about 20 minutes as rescue units rushed to the area, airport spokeswoman Crystal Feldman said.

"During that time we had our fire units responding to the incident, which allowed no planes to take off or land on our runway," she said at a news conference. "For about 20 minutes we had everything halted around the airport."

Feldman couldn't say how many people were aboard the private aircraft.

With rescuers from 12 state and local agencies searching the area round Umstead State Park, Feldman said people were advised to avoid the approximately 6,000-acre (2,400-hectare) wooded expanse bounded by an interstate, the airport and a state highway.

"Our primary goal right now is to find this airplane," she said.

At a second news conference around 11 p.m., Feldman said that a highway patrol helicopter flying over the state park was scanning for heat signatures on the ground. She said the dense forest of the park, combined with the darkness, could slow the search.

"It could take a very long time for us to find this plane," she said, adding: "No one is going home until this plane is found."

The president and CEO of the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority, Michael Landguth, echoed Feldman, describing the state park as having "few roads and little to no light." He called recovery efforts in remote areas "extremely challenging."

The airport's website showed that a number of arrivals were diverted beginning around 7 p.m., and departures were delayed. The airport said it resumed normal operations around 7:45 p.m.


Follow Drew at