February 27, 2009

05CN: Venezuela: Search Continues for Missing Missionary Plane

Venezuela: Search Continues for
Missing Medical Missionary Plane

BY LIBNA STEVENS, news coordinator, Inter-America Division                [ See Story Update ]  


Pilot Robert Norton with his wife Neiba lead out the Adventist Medical Aviation based in Gran Sabana, Venezuela.
[photo: courtesy of AMA]

capAdventist search teams continue looking for a medical missionary plane which went missing on Monday February 16 in the jungles of La Gran Sabana in southeastern Venezuela.

The Cessna 182N plane, piloted by Robert Norton, who volunteers for the Adventist Medical Aviation (AMA) in Venezuela, is believed to have hit turbulent weather after taking off from the community of Carun en route to Bethel. 
Also in the plane were six passengers: Neiba Norton, wife of the pilot, Gladis Zerpa an Adventist teacher, a woman accompanying a 14-year-old, and a woman traveling with her young son. "Our church is really distraught about the news of this tragedy," said Rodolfo Escobar, communication director for Venezuela-Antilles Union Mission.

Escobar said church members in Gran Sabana began searching for the missing plane as soon as they heard the news. The National Civil Aviation Institute and several air rescue and non-government organizations immediately began their search but were forced to stop after 72 hours.

The search continued Thursday with contracted rescue organizations. "We are running out of money to pay for the rescue planes but are trusting that God will provide what we need to find our people," Escobar said. Search operations will continue as long as funds are available, he added.


The search continues for the Adventist Medical Aviation Cessna 182N plane which went missing Feb. 16, 2009 in the jungles of Gran Sabana in Venezuela.  [Photo: CAUVA ]

According to Escobar, there were several accounts from villagers in the adjacent distant areas of Carun who heard the plane's engines go silent at some point during the stormy weather. "We have formed groups to search on the air and several more groups on foot to scour the region where the plane’s communication was last heard," said Escobar.

"We have asked our church members to take a moment to pray every hour of the day for those missing, and we are appealing to our members all around the world to join us in this effort asking for God's intervention during this situation," said Escobar.

Pilot Robert Norton has more than 20 years of flying experience. For the last eight years, he has been the director and pilot of AMA Venezuela, which is based on the campus of La Gran Sabana Adventist School in Santa Elena de Uairén in the state of Bolivar. His wife Neiba, a registered nurse, also works by caring for indigenous people in need of medical attention.

The Adventist Medical Aviation is an international project established more than 12 years ago by David Gates. AMA provides emergency medical transportation and evangelistic support to dozens of otherwise inaccessible villages, enabling the inhabitants to have another chance at life. AMA in Venezuela has served the indigenous communities in Gran Sabana, Bolivar providing medical transportation to nearly 1,000 patients since 2002.