JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The family of a U.S. missionary pilot who has disappeared off the coast of West Africa says aviation officials waited nearly 24 hours to start searching for his missing plane. But the lead investigator on Sao Tome island says the coast guard was alerted after it was dark.
The family of Jerry Krause, a missionary from Waseca, Minnesota, is sending a representative to Sao Tome in an effort to clarify what happened after the control tower lost contact with the pilot and his Beechcraft 1900C as it was approaching the airport amid a tropical storm on the afternoon of April 7.
Krause was flying from South Africa to Mali with a scheduled refueling stop in Sao Tome.
"His plane was never reported missing by Sao Tome until Monday afternoon after 3 p.m. when my mom contacted the (U.S.) Embassy in Mali," Krause's daughter, Jessica, told The Associated Press on Thursday. She said the first search by boat also didn't start until Monday afternoon, about 24 hours after he went missing.
"It was us having to call them to say 'Please, send someone out to look for my dad.'" Jessica Krause spoke by telephone from Bamako, Mali, where she flew from the U.S. to be with her mother, Gina.
Antonio Lima, president of the Air Accident Investigation Commission at Sao Tome's National Civil Aviation Institute, said control tower officials reported that Krause's plane lost contact with them at 4.13 p.m. (1613 GMT), according to a report provided by the airport management company ENESA.
He told the AP in a telephone interview that the tower reported at least to the local coast guard, which said it received the alert about Krause's plane being missing at 6 p.m., when it was already dark. The coast guard reported sending a vessel to search the sea in the direction from which the plane had been flying in on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday following the Sunday afternoon disappearance, he said.
But they found no trace of the aircraft, not even a sign of fuel on the surface of the ocean, Lima said, quoting the coast guard report.
Krause's family is encouraged by the lack of any debris and believes he is still alive. At its Web site www.findjerry.com , the family says the lack of any wreckage or signals from emergency transmitter beacons is an indicator the plane didn't crash. It has suggested Krause could have been kidnapped by drug traffickers or warlords, though there is no evidence to support that theory.
Lima said finding the plane is "crucial," so that they can recover the black box. "Without that we may never get to the bottom of this," he said.
Lima acknowledged there are plenty of loose ends that he hopes to clear up in his investigation.
He said he was unaware of a claim by the control tower chief that the tower was struck by lightning while it was in radio contact with Krause. Chief Januario Barreto told the AP on Wednesday that by the time generators restored power, soon afterward, the tower had lost contact with Krause.
Lima said "someone is lying" and that he suspected Barreto "is trying to save himself" by telling such a story. Barreto also said traffic controllers immediately contacted the nearest control towers, at Libreville, Gabon, and Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, but they had not heard from Krause.
Jessica Krause said pilot friends at the Sahel Aviation Service for which her father worked in Bamako, Mali, called all airports within flying distance from around 4 p.m. Monday afternoon until 9 p.m. that night.
"Several pilots made the calls trying to figure out where he was as no one had reported that he was missing," she said. "We called them (other airports) 24 hours later and not one of them had any idea what we were talking about when we mentioned a missing aircraft heading to Sao Tome Sunday evening."
Krause's family has filed a missing person report in the U.S. to allow the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board to investigate his disappearance. The board was notified of Krause's case on April 9 and has named a representative to participate in the investigation, said Hilary Fuller Renner, spokeswoman for the Bureau of African Affairs at the U.S. State Department.
Barry Hatton reported from Lisbon, Portugal.