An aura of mystery continues to surround the wreck of an abandoned small plane following an inspection of the remote site near Manitouwadge where the aircraft crashed last week.
“When (the pilot) exited, and how (the pilot) exited, is still a mystery,” Transportation Safety Board of Canada senior investigator Peter Rowntree said Monday.
“Our investigation is closed,” Rowntree added. “There’s nothing (pertaining to aviation safety) to learn here.”
Rowntree was one of two safety board investigators who were flown by helicopter Saturday afternoon to where the empty Cessna 172 aircraft crashed into the woods about 25 kilometres southeast of the mining town.
Though the four-seater plane broke through some trees during its descent and was left with a broken wing, the empty cockpit was largely intact, Rowntree said.
No pilot was found.
Investigators believe the Michigan-based plane had likely been flying on auto-pilot and ran out of fuel prior to crashing late last Wednesday night. Before hitting the ground, it had travelled 770 kilometres.
The 33-year-old aircraft did not have flight-recording equipment, or a roof hatch.
“The only way in or out is through the two main cabin doors,” said Rowntree.
According to investigators, the rented aircraft - owned by the University of Michigan Flyers club - departed around 7 p.m. Wednesday from an airport in Ann Arbor, Mich., near Detroit. It had been bound for Harbor Springs, Mich., a resort town in the northern part of the state.
“We believe it was on auto pilot (during the flight) but we can’t prove it,” said Rowntree.
Rowntree said he doesn’t believe the plane landed anywhere before it crashed.
Unlike some larger planes, a Cessna like the one that crashed can’t be launched by auto-pilot - there has to be a pilot in the cockpit at the time of takeoff, said Rowntree.
Rowntree said he knows the identity of the “experienced” pilot who flew the plane, but said he was not at liberty to release a name.
University of Michigan police said Monday they have also yet to release the name of the pilot, a graduate student who was still being considered a missing person.
Since that individual’s disappearance, there has been speculation that the pilot may have committed suicide during flight. Police would not comment.
There was no word Monday as to whether any agency planned to conduct a search for the pilot.
The Cessna model that crashed was not designed to carry parachutes, Rowntree said.
After it crashed, military personnel located the plane and were flown to the crash site. An extensive ground search around the wrecked plane found no traces of a pilot or passengers, Rowntree said.
Rowntree said the military was likely able to track the Cessna’s flight path and may have been able to pick up a homing signal being transmitted from the wreck.
It’s not unusual for licensed pilots to rent small aircraft for a brief excursion.
“You can rent an aircraft in many places in Canada,” Rowntree noted.
In his 20 years as an investigator, Rowntree said the Manitouwadge-area crash is one of the more intriguing cases to which he’s been assigned.
“Certainly, it’s unusual,” he said. “Normally when you go to a crash site, there is someone there.”