Thursday, August 16, 2012
It’s been three and a half years since pilot Bob Norton and six other passengers aboard his Cessna 182 airplane were seen flying over the Venezuelan jungles. A group of individuals dedicated to finding them, known as the Norton Search Team, hasn’t stopped looking for the beloved pilot in hopes of solving the mystery of his missing plane.
“I don’t know how I can stop looking for my friend. I don’t think I should,” said team leader Bob Edwards.
The team is hosting a benefit concert to help fund its continuing search effort for Norton and his wife Neiba, both Alabama missionaries, Saturday, Aug. 18 at the Choo Choo Centennial Theatre. The search effort is entirely funded through donations, fundraisers and team members’ own money.
The Nortons were medical aviation missionaries in the jungles of the Gran Sabana in Venezuela, flying back and forth across the country to carry the sick and wounded that needed advanced medical care. Norton was known as a skilled pilot who would brave even the most dangerous weather if it meant saving someone’s life, said Edwards.
“Everybody knew Bob,” Edwards said. “They called him the angel of the Sabana.”
On Feb. 16, 2009, Norton filled his four-seater plane with seven passengers, typical for a jungle pilot, Edwards said. After changing his route to pick up a sick girl and her mother, Norton radioed in to his base with “something important” to say but he could not be understood. Then there was only silence on the radio.
Norton and his passengers were not seen again.
The ensuing search has involved both Venezuelan and American organizations as well as countless hours of investigation, both flying over the jungles looking for evidence of the missing plane as well as compiling eye witness reports of what happened that day.
Despite initial rumors of abduction, no evidence has been found to suggest that the seven passengers were kidnapped.
Norton’s mother, whose husband died while also serving as a missionary pilot, must now face the possibility of losing her son in the same way.
“If we find him it will give closure,” Edwards said.
Though it’s been nearly four years, the search team hasn’t given up hope of finding the plane. An experienced team of analysts in the United States continues to use satellite images and containment analysis in efforts to narrow the search zone.
“The [search] zone seems to be narrowing, and technology keeps coming forward,” Edwards said.
The team hopes to have its third search summit sometime in September in order to build the next containment analysis and develop the GIS-geographic information system-model, he said.