Family joins search for missing pilot

Thulani Gqirana and Gareth Wilson

FAMILY members of a Benoni pilot whose plane disappeared en route to an air show in Mossel Bay arrived in the Eastern Cape yesterday to help with the search.

Police said the single-seater plane, flown by Clifton Pike, was last seen between Kenton-on- Sea and Colchester.

Eastern Cape Disaster Management spokesman John Fobian said a ground and air search resumed at first light yesterday.

"There are searches going on in Alexandria, Sundays River, Colchester, Nanaga, Addo, Kirkwood and Uitenhage.

"We have the help of police aircraft and from the Algoa Flying Club, as well as people on the ground."

The search yesterday was eventually called off at 7.30pm and will resume this morning.

The plane, presumed to have crashed somewhere between Alexandria and Port Elizabeth, took off from Port Alfred before noon on Wednesday.

It was one of three flying to Mossel Bay when heavy mist caused them to split up, with one opting to fly over the sea, one flying at a higher altitude and the third thought to have gone overland.

The alarm was raised after the two other pilots lost communication with Pike.

Dias Festival Air Show organiser Hans Potgieter confirmed that Pike was due to participate in the show.

A search for the plane was first launched at 6.30pm on Wednesday, but was called off three hours later due to poor visibility.

Police spokeswoman Captain Mali Govender said the search area was between Alexandria and Colchester.

43 Air School chief executive Attie Niemann said the aircraft had come through Port Alfred from KwaZulu-Natal on its way to Mossel Bay. He said the air school was assisting the search- and-rescue teams.

Air Force spokesman Captain Mark Kelbrick said a helicopter had also been sent from the Port Elizabeth base to help with the search.