Plane Wreckage Found, But Pilot Yet To Be Located

By: Ryan Bray

Topics: Airport , Police, Fire And Harbormaster News , Chatham , Orleans news , crashes and accidents

Divers with the Massachusetts State Police return to the Chatham Fish Pier Nov. 4 after having found wreckage from the plane first reported missing on Oct. 31. The body of the pilot, Roger Mills, of Woburn, has yet to be located. RYAN BRAY PHOTO

Wreckage of a plane that was reported missing early last week has been located, but there is still little information about the man who was piloting the aircraft.

State police divers, accompanied by Chatham and Harwich harbormaster personnel, located wreckage from the 1979 Piper Dakota aircraft early in the afternoon Nov. 4 about two miles east of Nauset Beach, Chatham Harbormaster Stuart Smith said.
Four days earlier, the plane flown by 67-year-old Roger Mills was reported by a friend as missing after it failed to arrive as anticipated at Chatham Municipal Airport.

Side-scan sonar attached to state and environmental police vessels was used to locate the wreckage, which was confirmed by state police divers.

Parts of the plane, including the wings, fuselage, alternator and seats, were located, Smith said, along with some personal items belonging to Mills.

According to his LinkedIn account, Mills was retired, having spent his career working in customer service in the medical technology field. He was a resident of Woburn, according to documentation filed with the FAA.

Mills' plane was reported missing to the U.S. Air Force at approximately 10:30 p.m. Oct. 31, after which an alert was issued to the Federal Aviation Administration and staff at the Chatham Airport.

The FAA said the flight originated at the Reading, Pa., Regional Airport and was heading to Chatham. Terry Sroka, who manages the regional airport in Reading, said last week that the airport had no information about the missing plane.

Chatham Municipal Airport Manager Tim Howard said that Mills did not file a flight plan with the FAA. According to the Coast Guard, the plane's last transmitted transponder signal was at 6:49 p.m. descending at 4,000 feet per minute about four miles east of Sipson Island. Howard called that rate of descent "abnormal."

The Coast Guard, which confirmed Mills as the owner and operator of the plane, suspended its search Nov. 2 after having searched more than 2,076 square miles with no sign of the missing aircraft. Local officials in Chatham, Orleans and Harwich assisted the Coast Guard in its search.

The day after the Coast Guard called off its search, state police troopers from the agency's marine and underwater recovery units undertook a search for the plane and pilot.

"At the moment it's done," Smith said of local and state officials' involvement in the search and investigation. "They've found the wreckage. Now it's in the hands of the [National Transportation Safety Board]."

The National Transportation Safety Board is an independent federal agency responsible for civil transportation accident investigation, including airplane crashes. Peter Knudson, a spokesperson with the board, said Monday that an investigator with the agency will "at some point" visit Chatham to investigate after the wreckage is removed from the ocean. He did not say who is responsible for the removal or when it will occur.

Smith on Monday said that the wreckage had not yet been removed, and that it would not be the responsibility of the town or the state police to do so.

Knudson said the board will investigate the plane, including maintenance records and any wreckage that might be uncovered, and the weather conditions at the time of the flight. The board's investigation will also look at Mills' pilot training, flight preparation, medical history and contacts in the 72 hours leading up the flight.

Email Ryan Bray at ryan@capecodchronicle.com