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Search continues for Twin Cities pilot in northern Minnesota

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Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

The second day of searching for former Hallock, Minn., man, Andrew Lindberg, who disappeared in the Piper plane he was soloing from this Twin Cities home back to his hometown for hunting ended empty.

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More than 100 trained volunteers with the Civil Air Patrol, including 12 airplanes, searched 2,000 square miles by Sunday night across north-central Minnesota looking for Lindberg, said Lt. George Supan, spokesman for the Minnesota CAP, who was in Brainerd, where the search is being staged. Members of the Bemidji-based CAP Northland Composite Squadron joined the search.

Lindberg left Lakeville, Minn., Friday, flying a white, yellow and black PA-28 Piper Cherokee headed to Hallock. But he never arrived at the little airport at Hallock where his father, Bill, was waiting, even after a mid-flight text message to his dad.

Kittson County Sheriff Ken Hultgren said Monday that Bill Lindberg called Hultgren, his old classmate, about 9 p.m. to report his worries when Andrew hadn't shown up yet.

Andrew had texted his father about 6:30 p.m. Friday.

"The gist was he was over Staples and on his way," Hultgren said today. There was nothing apparent in the message about any problems, Hultgren said.

Lindberg's plan was to meet his father at the Hallock airport and drive east to their farm north of Lake Bronson, where they hunt deer every fall.

"I grew up with Bill," Hultgren said, illustrating how close this search hits the whole county where Lindberg grew up.

It means he feels the dread the family began feeling Sunday as the search turned up empty for the second day.

"Bill left and went down today (Sunday) to Brainerd," Hultgren said, adding he probably will head down today to also be nearer the search's main area.

Andrew Lindgren was a new pilot and had just gotten married last month, according to news reports. He worked for Met Life and lived in Farmington, with his wife, Kate.

Hultgren himself went up in the air Sunday in a Cessna, part of a 60-mile search of the GPS vector Lindberg would have flown from Thief River Falls to Hallock.

"We were just basically eliminating any possibility of where he might be," Hultgren said.

Supan said because the only cell phone message bounced off a cell phone tower near Wadena, which is near Staples, the search is concentrated in that area and northwest. It includes the Park Rapids area, and several state forests, plenty of fir and pine trees that make it difficult to see any downed aircraft, Hultgren said.

Lindberg apparently was not qualified to fly by instruments alone, Supan said. Weather conditions were not favorable for flying Friday night, with cloud conditions across much of the area, including some fog in northwest Minnesota, Supan and Hultgren said.

The state Civil Air Patrol happened to be holding a training weekend in Anoka when the call came in about Lindberg going missing Friday night.

Supan said about 55 CAP volunteers were in Anoka, and others stayed home because the drizzling, clouded weather kept aircraft from launching Saturday morning.

But as skies cleared by noon Saturday over central and northern Minnesota, many of the trained volunteers showed up at the Brainerd staging area.

Supan said the CAP had 12 aircraft up, including one from North Dakota, each with a three-person crew, plus eight ground crews each, with at least four people in a vehicle coordinating with the aircraft to do any searches on foot to follow up leads seen from the air.

Some pilots continue searching in the dark, listening electronically for any signals from a downed aircraft.

The last one got in after 8 p.m. Sunday.

Nothing has been heard from the Piper's emergency locater transponder, or ELT, Supan said. That's not good news, but it's hard to know what it means.

Set up to go off automatically on impact, ELTs can withstand pretty rough landings at times, and other times can be set off by a buffet of wind, Supan said. If the ELT's antenna on the aircraft, or the aircraft itself, gets submerged in water, that also can suppress the signal, he said.

But every emergency and rough landing would not necessarily set off an ELT because each one can be set differently, Supan said.

He figures about six to eight aircraft, plus accompanying ground crews, will search Monday, depending on how many volunteers are available.

Hultgren said he's been told there is a small army of volunteers with all-terrain vehicles and other resources poised to help in any ground search if it becomes necessary.

There was a report of a green flare seen in the Brainerd area Friday night, Supan said.

"That is one of the things being investigated," he said.

He asked that aircraft avoid the region between Fosston and St. Cloud Monday, so the search effort is not interfered with.

The Civil Air Patrol, a nonprofit, all-volunteer well-trained group, is a civilian auxiliary of the Air Force formed in the 1930s, with 1,200 members in Minnesota.

"Right now, they are a God-send, I will tell you," Hultgren said. "And the fact they are all up there for training to begin with, talk about coincidence."

Stephen J. Lee is a writer for the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.

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Steve Lee
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