By Eric Leijenaar, BosNewsLife Senior Special Correspondent
CARACAS, VENEZUELA (BosNewsLife)– There were fears Thursday, February 26, that missionaries may have died in a plane crash, ten days after their small aircraft disappeared in the jungles of Venezuela.
The Cessna 128N, of Adventist Medical Aviation (AMA) group, disappeared Monday, February 16, in the jungles of La Gran Sabana, a vast southeastern region in Venezuela, said the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which supports the group.
Polit Robert Norton, who volunteers for AMA in Venezuela, was believed to have hit turbulent weather after taking off from the community of Carun en route to the community of Bethel.
Also in the plane were six passengers identified as the pilot’s wife Neiba Norton, Gladis Zerpa, an Adventist teacher; a woman accompanying a 14-year-old and a woman traveling with her young son, Christians said.
“Our church is really distraught about the news of this tragedy,” said Rodolfo Escobar, Communication director for the church in Venezuela in a statement released by the Adventist News Network (ANN).
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, along with several air rescue and non-government organizations, immediately began their search but stopped after 72 hours.
Escobar said there were several accounts from villagers in the adjacent areas of Carun who heard the plane’s engines go silent at some point during the stormy weather. “We have formed groups to search in the air and several more groups on foot to scour the region where the plane communication was last heard.”
Norton, the pilot, has more than 20 years of flying experience, ANN reported. For the last eight years, he served as director of AMA Venezuela, which is based on the campus of La Gran Sabana Adventist School in Santa Elena de Uairén in Bolivar. His wife Neiba is a registered nurse and works with indigenous people in the region.
AMA provides emergency medical transportation and evangelistic support to dozens of otherwise inaccessible villages.