Posted by: OCI | April 23, 2009

The Search Continues

Groups continue to pray for the missing pilot, Bob Norton, and his passengers. The plane disappeared on February 16 (read the news story) in a dense jungle region of Venezuela. It has been more than two months with no sign of the plane or those it carried. Yet we are not without hope. Recently a couple of men who have been working with satellite imagery of the location where the plane is suspected to have disappeared traveled to Venezula to help with the search. They had discovered points of interest in the satellite images that they were traveling down to examine. In the process, they were able to gather more information from those living near where the plan was last seen.

They have included a short report in an e-mail update sent by Bob’s sister. Her whole message follows:

Nine weeks later, the search for AMA’s plane and passengers continues. I wonder tonight, as I put together the information I can share, what God is thinking as He looks down on those searching and praying, knowing the whole story. One day I may ask Him, but for now I continue to trust His plan and promise to bring something good out of the bad and difficult circumstances. I can only be His hand that has brought so many people together during the past weeks, and protected those in the jungles.

April 9-16 Bob Edwards and Robbie Norton flew to Venezuela, meeting people in Ciudad Bolivar area, in Santa Elena, and at Maruk. They were able to talk with Marian and Odys Zerpa, Glady’s daughters, who were able to provide information regarding the search. They met Celso and communicated with him regarding all that has transpired since February 16th.  Below is an update Bob Edwards sent to family and the Technical Satellite Search Team while in Venezuela.

“Monday we (Bob, Robbie, Dr. Pedro and Celso) flew with Luis, a very skillful pilot, from Santa Elena through the probable flight path as determined by JD and Shannon from the flight simulator, from Karum towards Bethel (we did not actually fly all the way to Bethel since this is far beyond the search area).  We investigated 9 POIs, several of them identified from our good friends at Aegis and several from our Technical Satellite Search Team (TSST).  Although we did not find the plane, we found a lot of the naturally occurring things that appear to be anomalies in the satellite images, but in fact can be explained when investigated from a plane.  We will be putting together some training slides this weekend to send to the TSST.  It was a very productive flight.  We then flew up to La Paragua and spent the night there in a hotel that cost us approximately $12 dollars—and yes it was interesting!

Tuesday, we met up with our amazing friends from the Civil Protection, including Adrehina Diaz, who has coordinated all of the information, meetings, and efforts between us and the Civil Protection. By the way, she is a very good helicopter pilot and a huge blessing in this effort.  Along with her was the best helicopter pilot I’ve ever flown with, Carlos Guzman, with over 7000 hours in helicopter. They picked us up at about 7:15am and we flew to Karum in a Bell 206 helicopter to offload equipment and load the POIs (points of interest) to fly to into the helicopter GPS.  We went out for 2+ hours and investigated 10 POIs.  We returned to Karum for food (fresh pineapple and some sort of a potato type plant that was very good), fuel and to add additional POIs in the GPS.  We flew over the Zone 1 area for another 2+ hours and found nothing.  We then flew to La Paragua to refuel and rest before flying on to Ciudad Bolivar.  The skills of Zamuro were impressive.  He flew in very low and slow over the POIs and we were able to get an excellent look at the areas. The prop wash pushed the trees back and opened up the areas below to see the jungle floor more clearly.

After returning to Ciudad Bolivar, we were received by Alexandro Espenoca, the Manager of the Air Ambulance service. He works for Roberto Espenoca who is the Manager for Servicia Aiero whom we met several days earlier in Santa Elena. Servicia Aiero provides the aviation support for the Civil Protection. We also met with Efrain Blanco, who is the Manager of the pilots for Servicia Aiero.  We explained what we had done and how the search efforts went and they pledged their continued support of the search efforts.

Tuesday night we were honored to be guests at the home of Dr. Garcia, Manager for all of the Civil Protection (CP) for the state of Bolivar. He and his family took wonderful care of us. Wed. morning we returned to the CP headquarters to work on the next steps for the search effort.  There we met with Donald Martinez, team leader for one of the ground search teams and he explained their next area to search.  This is the team going to the jungle by helicopter next Wednesday.  We also met with Cesar Del Castillo, the Manager for the National Civil Protection Task Force.  He is also a Geological Engineer who was able to provide us with helpful information.

Robbie and I are now in Caracas (Wed.) on our way back to the U.S tomorrow morning.  Although we would love to have located Bob and Neiba and the rest, we are very grateful for the incredible help of everyone we have been with over this past week, all the information obtained and the great friends we have made who continue to work towards this incredible search effort.  For everyone involved I send you my thanks and know that this would not be possible without all of us working together. As God opens doors we press ahead.  Your continued support and prayers are appreciated.”

While talking to people in Venezuela Bob Edwards and Robbie learned some important information regarding what was observed and heard the morning Bob Norton took off from Karum. He made three circles to gain altitude, each taking approximately 4 to 5 minutes. This compresses his total trip distance by 12 to 15 minutes meaning Bob’s final radio communication was not as far from Karum as we thought, and may actually be in Zone 3 area, southwest of Zone 1. (The team has determined and divided up geographical areas, labeling them.) The Analysis Team took this information and used the flight simulator on google earth to redefine the route which brings the final communications at the top of Zone 3 or the bottom of Zone 1. They determined the next area to image is to the south of the mountains and not the original plan for the zone 2.

People at a fishing village heard the airplane, as well as people at a mining camp, but no one saw it pass or heard anything amiss. Previously we’d heard that the engine sounded different and other stuff, but Robbie told me these two groups heard an airplane at what would have been the right timing for Bob’s route that Monday morning.

Later this week Celso is returning to the jungle ground search by boat. The team has sent to Celso an approximate route for his team to follow based upon information received from the Civil Protection. Edwards left the SPOT tracking device with him so the team can watch his progress during the search. Donald Martinez is leading a second ground search team, going out by helicopter on Wed., if one is available to transport them.

The Civil Protection has been involved from when the plane went missing, but had to stop after 2 weeks because of the laws. However, when they have new information, which the tech team is providing with more coordinates, they can legally continue to search.

Bob Edwards would like to give a special thanks to those committed to continue the search efforts including, but not limited to; Dr. Garcia, Andrehina Diaz and Cesar Del Castillo with the Civil Protection, Roberto Espenoca the Manager of Servicia Aiero, Efrain Blanco the Manager of the pilots for Servicia Aiero, Alexandro Espenoca the Manager of the air ambulance, Carlos Guzman the helicopter pilot, Celso and Donald and the Indian ground search teams and Dr. Pedro, who is a major communications link for us in St. Elena with his email and cell phone. Also Danny and Siria Mirlena continue to take very good care of the AMA house that Bob and Neiba lived in there in Maruk. Everyone was so helpful and supportive to Bob Edwards and Robbie Norton during their visit. It is nice to know that Bob and Neiba Norton had many caring friends and neighbors.

God has opened doors, put people together, and provided in numerous ways for the search. Personally, I have many questions and wonder why God hasn’t shown those looking where to go, but it all comes back to trusting Him. I too wish to extend my thanks to Mr. Edwards and his team who often work around the clock seeking information to send the pilots and search team in Venezuela. The few days he and Robbie were in Venezuela I so hoped they would find them, but it wasn’t to be. We continue to unite in praying and hoping that soon this search will be over.

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