Feb. 19, 2004 – The U.S. Coast Guard on Thursday suspended its search for a missing plane piloted by Dr. Sheldon Prudoff, a St. Croix oral surgeon and dentist, but volunteers on St. Croix continued their efforts.
In the Coast Guard mission, helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and a cutter had been searching a 440-square mile area for the private plane, which disappeared from Federal Aviation Administration radar on Sunday night.
The plane, a 1975 Model 112 Alpine Commander, was en route from Puerto Rico to St. Croix.
Coast Guard Petty Officer John Gaffney said on Thursday afternoon that the search efforts had failed to turn up any sign of the plane or its occupant. "The Coast Guard conducted 14 separate searches using helicopters, varied aircraft and the cutter Mantinicus," he said. "We searched the area very thoroughly and are confident that, had there been something in the search area to see, we would have found it."
The case remains active, however, Gaffney said, and any findings that might turn up in the area or elsewhere "could reactivate the search."
Meanwhile, Sharon Prudoff issued a statement on Wednesday saying that although the Coast Guard had called off its search operation, "the Virgin Islands community is still actively patrolling the waters and airspace between Puerto Rico and St. Croix."
She said that "Jones Maritime Sailing School is coordinating this search and rescue mission, and many local pilots, boaters and fishermen are continuing to graciously donate their services." And she added, "Dr. Prudoff's family and friends remain hopeful that he is alive, and the family wishes to express their gratitude for the assistance, support, love, prayers, time and energy that so many members of the community have invested in Dr. Prudoff's safe return home."
Anyone wishing to join the volunteer search effort is asked to call Kim Jones of the sailing school at 773-4709.
Gaffney also said the Coast Guard was unable to confirm reports that surfaced Monday of a life raft having been seen in the waters off Vieques.. The searches found no signs of a life raft, he said.
Coast Guard officials believe Prudoff was the only person aboard the aircraft when traffic controllers lost contact.
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