ST. MARTINVILLE - Rusting airplane wreckage discovered in the Atchafalaya Basin by a hunter could be an oil company aircraft left abandoned in the swamp after a 1960s crash, St. Martin Parish officials say.
The National Transportation Safety Board has been researching the wreckage since it was reported by Lafayette businessman Harold Schoeffler, who happened upon the crash site Feb. 11 while rabbit hunting.
News reports of the find have prompted a few calls to the St. Martin Sheriff's Office reporting that it is probably wreckage from an oil company airplane that crashed in either 1966 or 1967, spokeswoman Maj. Ginny Higgins said.
Callers have reported a pilot and a passenger escaped, and the airplane was left in the swamp, she said.
"From what I understand, they both did survive," Higgins said.
As for why the wreckage was left in the swamp, she said, "I guess it was handled at the time in a certain way."
The Sheriff's Office has no report of the crash, Higgins said, and all the information known so far has come from area residents who called in after hearing news reports.
"We're just getting bits and pieces here and there," she said.
According to NTSB records, a Cessna 180 - the type of airplane reported by Schoeffler - crashed when it hit an overhanging tree while attempting to take off from a canal in St. Martin Parish on July 14, 1966.
The NTSB records do not identify the name of the pilot but said the plane was operated by "Longhorn Air."
The specific location of the crash is not given in the NTSB records, and the details differ slightly from what has been reported to the Sheriff's Office.
Higgins said callers reported the airplane crashed while attempting an emergency landing after experiencing mechanical failure, but the report blames the crash on a failed take-off.
NTSB Regional Director of Aviation Safety Hector Casanova was out of the office Thursday and could not be reached for comment on whether investigators believe the wreckage is from the 1960s crash.
Casanova said earlier this week his office had been unable to find any documentation of a crash at the site, which is off a canal in St. Martin Parish near the Atchafalaya River.
He also said that aviation investigators generally do not leave wreckage at a crash site.
Casanova had speculated the wreckage could have been a missing aircraft or airplane used in drug smuggling.
According to NTSB records, the only report of a missing Cessna aircraft from the Lafayette area in the past 40 years was in 1975, but that plane was a different model.
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The NTSB has been researching the wreckage since it was discovered on Feb. 11 by someone rabbit hunting.
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