Coast Guard Continues Search for Plane That Mysteriously Disappeared

The U.S. Coast Guard continued searching a 4,000-square-mile area Wednesday for a missing plane with 12 people aboard that disappeared earlier this week near the Turks and Caicos Islands.

The fixed-wing twin-engine aircraft, registered with the number N650LP, did signal a mayday once Monday before it disappeared off the radar, according to Coast Guard spokesman Nick Ameen.

The Britten-Norman plane disappeared under mysterious circumstances, allegedly flown by an unlicensed pilot. Aviation officials gave conflicting reports on the craft's origin, destination and where it was last seen.

Luis A. Irizarry, an investigator for the plane's registered owner — Luis Perez of Puerto Rico, told that the pilot was not authorized to fly the plane.

"He had no license, and all he was authorized is to conduct an inspection because he was trying to purchase the airplane," Irizarry said.

Perez was asking $225,000 for the airplane, Irizarry said. Perez told the Associated Press that he planned to report the plane as stolen. He said he hired a trusted pilot to fly it to the Dominican Republic to have it inspected.

The missing pilot, identified as Adrian Jimenez of the Dominican Republic, had his license revoked in October 2006 and was not authorized to fly, said Dominican Pilots Association president Pedro Dominguez. He did not elaborate.

A flight plan indicated the plane took off from the Dominican Republic and was to land in the Bahamas, said Santiago Rosa, aerial navigation director for the Dominican Civil Aviation Institute.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, which said Tuesday that the plane disappeared shortly after taking off from Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands just southeast of the Bahamas, referred all questions to that country's aviation officials.

The Turks and Caicos Islands Civil Aviation Authority did not answer phones Wednesday.

Ameen said rescuers searching for the plane were told the crew intended to refuel in Turks and Caicos.

However, the Bahamas Aviation Authority said the plane never landed there, and Turks and Caicos police Sgt. Calvin Chase said airport authorities had no record of the plane landing in Providenciales.

Relatives of those on board told the Coast Guard that the passengers' final destination was New York, Coast Guard Petty Officer Barry Bena said. But the FAA had no record that that was true.

Among those missing is Rosa Tavarez, 27, authorities said.

Tavarez worked as a maid in rural Dominican Republic and wanted to find a higher-paying job elsewhere in the Caribbean, acquaintance Maria Torres told reporters as she arrived Tuesday at the Dominican Republic's international airport seeking information on the flight.

The Coast Guard and other agencies were searching in the Atlantic Ocean about 4 miles west of West Caicos island but had not found any wreckage, Ameen said.

Bad weather in the area was causing large swells and low visibility, making the search difficult, Bena added.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.