A Palmer man missing and presumed dead after his plane disappeared on a flight from Soldotna to Palmer was a student pilot believed to have last been over Cook Inlet before his plane dropped off radar, according to a preliminary National Transportation Safety Board report.
The report, released Thursday, sheds more light on the possible fate of Brendan Mattingley, who took off from Soldotna Oct. 13 in his green, red and white Piper PA-18 Super Cub headed for the Wolf Lake airport in Palmer, but never landed there.
A massive official search effort for Mattingley involving the Alaska Air National Guard, Civil Air Patrol and Alaska State Troopers began the next day, but was suspended Oct. 23. Family and friends have continued private search efforts, and authorities say they will reopen the case if new information comes to light.
According to archived radar data, an unknown aircraft believed to be Mattingley’s Super Cub took off from Soldotna at 1:37 a.m. on Oct. 13, following an erratic course that ultimately took it over water.
“After departure, the radar track initially proceeded southeast of the airport before it turned and proceeded west then northeast over land before making more turns and eventually proceeding over the waters of Cook Inlet,” investigators wrote. “The last position of the radar target was recorded about (2:48 a.m.) mid-channel over the Cook Inlet, about 30 miles north of Soldotna, or about 25 miles north-northeast of Kenai, Alaska.”
No emergency locator transmitter signal was detected from Mattingley's plane, according to the report. Clint Johnson with the NTSB said Mattingley's plane was equipped with an older style ELT, but if the plane crashed into the inlet, chances of a newer ELT model sending out a signal would be slim.
"If either ELT is submerged in the water, the likelihood of it going off is going to be tough," Johnson said.
A weather report from the Kenai Municipal Airport at 1:53 a.m. on Oct. 13 describes "dark night conditions" as prevailing and lists winds from the north at 3 knots, with clear skies and visibility at 10 statute miles. According to Johnson, it is unclear if Mattingley was flying using instruments.
"We're still trying to work with the family to find out exactly how the airplane was equipped and also the level of training as far as the pilot goes. He was a student pilot but again as far as his skill set, we're working on that," Johnson said.
Mattingley's father, Ken Mattingley, said on Thursday that the private search for his son continues. He had plans to search by air Thursday afternoon or Friday morning.