DULUTH, Minn. (WCCO) — The search for a missing pilot near the shore of Lake Superior in northeastern Minnesota is in its fifth day. But this morning, because of high winds, the air search was stopped for a time.
Civil Air Patrol Captain George Supan said six aircraft and two ground crews are concentrating on an area near Silver Bay where the last radar contact was heard from his twin-engine Piper.
“We have approximately 40 people at the command center associated with the air teams that are going out,” Supan said.
WCCO’s Susie Jones Interviews Supan
Michael Bratlie, 67, is a seasoned pilot with flight time in the U.S. Navy and with Northwest Airlines. Bratlie took off from an airport in South St. Paul Friday for a roundtrip flight to the Duluth area.
Supan said they got a signal from a cell tower.
“It was not a communication by him, but it was the tower communicating with his cell phone,” he said.
Supan said there was no distress call made.
“The first thing Saturday morning, we sent teams out, listening for the transmission of the beacon, but did not detect any at that time,” he said.
The areas near the north shore are very vast and difficult terrain.
“Very rugged. The terrain is rugged with frequent changes in elevation all the way from the shoreline, with the cliffs right next to the shoreline, to inland,” he said.
The winds have also contributed to the challenges of the search.
“We have to be extremely safe and precautionary because of the mission that we are doing. We have a number of aircraft in one concentrated areas, so safety is first and foremost,” Supan said.
Supan said they are in contact with the family, and with people at the airport that he left from, people that know him personally.
Bratlie was not on a planned mission, but instead was testing a new engine in the plane.
“And what they have to do is put extra hours on that engine before they can take it on a long flight,” he said.
Supan said they will search as long as they have the go ahead from the Air Force.
“We obviously as Civil Air Patrol members and volunteers, want to continue until our mission is complete by finding the aircraft and the pilot. On the other hand, we are funded through the Air Force, and it’s the Air Force’s call as to how long the mission would proceed,” Supan said.
Supan also had a request from the public.
“If they see anything from the air, any change in foliage, or anything like that, or somebody on the ground, that notices something unusual, that is what should be reported to the local emergency agency,” he said.
The Civil Air Patrol says there’s no evidence Bratlie landed at any of the three airports in the area: Duluth, Park Point or Superior, Wis.