On May 31, 1996, at approximately 0029 Pacific daylight time, radio and radar contact was lost with N47852, a Piper PA-28-161 registered to the CAVU Flying Club of Lynnwood, Washington. The commercial pilot, who was the sole occupant and was also the owner of the CAVU Flying Club, reported over Winslow (an air traffic control visual flight rules reporting point approximately 10 nautical miles northwest of King County International Airport/Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington) at 0027 and requested a stop-and-go landing at Boeing Field. At 0028, the pilot reported that he had lost his engine over Elliott Bay and was trying to get it restarted. The last radar position of the aircraft, recorded by the Seattle air route traffic control center (ARTCC), was over Puget Sound approximately 1/2 nautical mile north-northeast of Alki Point. A U.S. Coast Guard search did not locate either the pilot or any aircraft wreckage, although an oil slick was found on the water in the vicinity of the last radar position. The aircraft was based at Snohomish County/Paine Field, Everett, Washington (the operating base of the CAVU Flying Club), and is presumed to have originated the flight there. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan had been filed for the 14 CFR 91 flight.

On the morning of the disappearance, a woman who identified herself as a friend of the pilot contacted the NTSB office in Seattle by telephone regarding the disappearance. The NTSB IIC then conducted a telephone interview with the woman, which he tape-recorded with her knowledge and consent, on the same date. During this interview, the woman stated that she lived in West Seattle near Alki Point; a map comparison of her reported West Seattle address with the aircraft's last recorded radar position revealed that the two points were approximately 1/2 mile apart. The woman stated that the pilot visited her at her apartment for about three hours on the evening before the disappearance, and that during his visit she noticed that her car and apartment keys were not in their usual place. She stated he left shortly before 2100, stating to her that he had a 2200 flight at Paine Field. She further reported that she saw her car outside her apartment when she went to bed at about midnight, but then noticed at approximately 0330 on the morning of the disappearance, after being awakened by a query from the Seattle Automated Flight Service Station (AFSS) about the missing aircraft, that her car was missing. She stated that she then reported her car stolen and searched for her keys but was unable to locate them anywhere in her apartment, despite recalling using her keys at about 1800 the previous evening to enter her apartment and not leaving her apartment since that time. Her car was found by law enforcement authorities in the parking lot of the Best Western Bellevue Inn, Bellevue, Washington, on June 10, 1996. A Bellevue Police Department report stated that the vehicle was found unlocked and undamaged, that no signs of forced entry were visible, and that force had not been used to start the vehicle.

During the period from about June 5 to June 7, 1996, a Snohomish County Sheriff's detective informed the NTSB IIC that various acquaintances of the pilot had reported being in contact with the pilot since the disappearance. The pilot's whereabouts remained unconfirmed until June 24, 1996, at which time the pilot turned himself in to Federal law enforcement authorities in Seattle. The pilot was subsequently charged in U.S. District Court, Seattle, with mail fraud relating to insurance claims the pilot had submitted on behalf of the CAVU Flying Club, as well as with making a false distress signal in relation to the disappearance of N47852 on May 31st. On September 6, 1996, the pilot pled guilty to both counts. A copy of the plea agreement furnished by the pilot's attorney contained the following statements:

The defendant [pilot] stipulates and agrees to the following factual basis for his plea of guilty to the charges...:

...As a result of information about this crash contained in the local media, the assistant general manager of the Best Western Bellevue Inn located [in] Bellevue, Washington, reported that [an individual with the pilot's name] was a guest of the Best Western Bellevue Inn on the evening of May 30, 1996. At approximately 2:00 p.m., on May 30, 1996, a person identifying himself as [the pilot] registered at the Best Western Bellevue Inn. During the registration process, [the pilot] asked the manager to make a reservation for him with Shuttle Express for transportation to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. [The pilot] told the manager that he wanted to leave the hotel on May 31, 1996 at 4:50 a.m., and would be traveling on Alaska Airlines. The records of Shuttle Express show that [the pilot] was the passenger leaving the Best Western Bellevue Inn at 4:50 a.m. on May 31, 1995 [sic], and that he was taken to the Sea-Tac Airport. Records of Alaska Airlines show a [person with the pilot's name] as a passenger on Alaska Flight 194 leaving Seattle-Tacoma International Airport at 6:40 a.m. on May 31, 1996 for Los Angeles, California. [The pilot] was a passenger on this flight while the United States Coast Guard...continued their search for his downed plane.

Neither the pilot, the pilot's attorney, nor any representatives of the CAVU Flying Club returned a NTSB Form 6120.1/2, Pilot/Operator Aircraft Accident Report. In a cover letter accompanying the copy of the plea agreement, the pilot's attorney referred to the occurrence as the pilot's "crash of a plane into Puget Sound." At the time of this report, the aircraft had not been recovered or located.

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