GREENBUSH — The pilot of a small Cessna airplane that crashed Monday morning into a canal at the center of Olamon Island called air officials to say his plane was icing and he was going to attempt an emergency landing at Old Town’s DeWitt Field.
“He never made it” to the airport, Milford Fire Chief Chris Matson said just before noon from the staging area where area fire, police and rescue personnel gathered before the missing plane was located.
The pilot, James Beaton, 78, of Wales in Great Britain, was the lone person in the Cessna 172 four-seater, which was heading to Greenland, Lt. Wesley Hussey of the Maine State Police said Monday.
The pilot’s body was removed from the partially submerged plane Monday evening and was taken to the medical examiner’s office in Augusta, Hussey said.
After taking off from Bangor International Airport on Monday morning, Beaton “called the Bangor air traffic control tower to say he was having trouble with the plane and he was icing up and then they lost radio contact with him,” said Hussey, who is the commander of Troop E in Orono.
The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, based in Florida, then called Maine State Police at 11:06 a.m. to say the plane’s emergency transponder was going off, the lieutenant said.
“They were able to give us GPS coordinates,” Hussey said.
The signal indicated the plane went down about 10 miles north of Old Town.
Aircraft from the Maine Forestry Service circled the area for an hour searching for the downed blue and white plane, which was spotted just after noon half-submerged in the cold water with its nose facing down. A plane from Down East Emergency Medicine Institute also took to the air to assist and provided the Bangor Daily News with aerial images.
Even before the plane was seen by searchers, three Penobscot Indian Nation firefighters and a game warden took a canoe across a small stream called Side Channel to get onto the island, which is reachable only by boat, Penobscot Indian Nation Fire Chief Joey Loring said.
They had to trudge through deep snow on the 7-acre island to get to the crash scene and arrived just after 1 p.m., the fire chief said.
“It was almost in the middle of the island, in a cove,” Loring said.
Penobscot Nation firefighters John Neptune, Joe Dana and Eric Sappier made the trip along with Game Warden Dave Georgia, who found the submerged craft, the fire chief said.
Gaining access to the island was a problem, Milford Fire Chief Matson said, adding that a hovercraft from the Brewer Fire Department was called in to assist with getting personnel safely over the ice-crusted but fast-moving river water. A rope eventually was extended across the small canal and used with canoes to ferry emergency responders and supplies onto the island.
Because the nose of the plane was underwater, divers were needed to get into the cockpit to remove the pilot’s body.
The Penobscot Indian Nation island is located west of Route 2, near the town lines of Greenbush and Passadumkeag, and has only one year-round resident.
An Argyle resident and the island resident both reported hearing the plane’s engine cut out.
Mike Dow was sitting in the living room of his Route 116 home in Argyle when he heard a plane approaching, he said Monday afternoon.
“I heard the engine quit, a bang, and it was gone,” he said. “I went to the window and didn’t see any smoke or flames.”
Shortly afterward, a state police trooper pulled into Dow’s driveway and told him a plane was reported missing in the area.
“That’s when I knew something happened,” Dow said. “I knew it wasn’t good.”