Missing Colville pilot's body found in Pend Orielle County

RaeLynn Ricarte

The body of missing Colville pilot Terry Coleman, 67, was found Saturday morning by one of the searchers combing the rugged terrain east of Highway 31 in northern Pend Orielle County.
“We are just grateful that we did find him so the family has closure,” said Pend Oreille County Sheriff Glenn Blakeslee after Coleman’s remains were discovered in Sullivan Lake about 8:44 a.m. on Nov. 16.
Blakeslee said boats had been out on the lake several times with no results in prior days. He said searchers had also combed the shoreline with no results. He believes Coleman's body floated free of the plane and the aircraft is still submerged, possibly near the southern end of the lake.
Sonar was deployed at one point, also without results, said Blakeslee. He said the depth of the lake reaches about 280 feet so it may be difficult to spot the plane. However, he asks pilots and people around the lake to keep an eye out on a clear day for any sign of the gold colored aircraft. If possible, he would like to see the plane retrieved to see if a mechanical problem caused the crash.
An autopsy will be done on Coleman's remains to see if he suffered some type of a medical condition that might have contributed to the incident.
Shane Inman, who was in charge of search operations from the Ione Airport, said the search area was defined by a radar “ping” from Spokane that put Coleman's Cessna 182 Skylane at about 4,000 feet on Monday.
“Unfortunately, that's all we've got to work with,” he said.
He said the grid was circular about one-half mile from that ping and then moved out to one mile. The rugged and heavily forested terrain with snow in the higher elevations made footing treacherous for searchers, so he paired inexperienced climbers and hikers with those who had expertise in the field.
Inman said everyone was kept at the 4,000 foot elevation level because that was where Coleman had last been pinged. Binoculars were used to scan areas up to 6,000 feet in elevation.
That sector of the county is grizzly and wolf territory, so Blakeslee told everyone to remain vigilant, but there were no encounters.
Inman works for the Washington State Department of Transportation Aviation Division. He and Thomas Peterson, who took the lead on coordinating services, set up shop at the Colville Airport Tuesday morning, Nov. 12, to try to figure out where Coleman could have gone.
“Where do we start, that's the whole key to this,” said Peterson that day.
Snow was falling so it was not safe to send planes into the air, and no one knew exactly where Coleman had gone.
His family told Peterson that Coleman, a certified public accountant, failed to return to the Colville airport after what was expected to be a one-hour flight on Nov. 11.
It was Veterans Day and Coleman’s business was closed so he headed out about noon but did not file a flight plan because he didn't have to for the short local flight.
Inman said pilots flying around their home turf often don't file plans but it is a good thing to do because it makes it much easier to find a plane if there is an emergency. “I can get from A to B much quicker if I know where you are headed,” he said.
One ping from Coleman's cell phone was recorded on a tower in nearby Metaline Falls. The emergency locator beacon onboard the plane never sent out a signal.
Peterson said, with so little information to work with, finding Coleman became somewhat of a guessing game.
He said not all searches end with closure for the family. In July 2014, pilot Ed Jeffko headed from Tonasket to Sequim to pick up his grandson but failed to arrive.
His plane has never been found in both official and unofficial searches.
“When you get out in some of this forested terrain, it gets really difficult to spot a plane,” said Peterson. “Most of the time, the plane is found later by a hunter or someone walking through the woods.”
Ten days has been the longest period of time that WSDOT stays on the scene, said Peterson, who was hopeful on Nov. 12 that Coleman would be found quickly.
Numerous agencies were involved in the search and Sheriff Brad Manke joined Blakeslee in expressing “deepest sympathies” to the Coleman family for the tragic death of a loved one.
There was only one day last week, Thursday, when the weather was clear enough to get two planes and two helicopters up to look for signs of the plane or any signs of disturbance in the forest that could indicate a crash, said Inman.
He said that was a point of frustration for searchers, but U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers headed out every day with dogs, and searchers from Stevens County, the Spokane County Sheriff's Office, Civil Air Patrol, Washington Air Search and Rescue, and the U.S. Forest Service, joined them.
The ground search was suspended every night when darkness fell due to safety concerns.