YAOUNDE, Cameroon – Villagers in Cameroon stumbled across the remains of an American pilot nearly a year after his small anti-poaching plane disappeared over forested, mountainous terrain, authorities said. The pilot's family said the discovery brought some "closure" after not knowing what had happened for so long.
Hunters and farmers found the crash site of pilot Bill Fitzpatrick's Cessna 172 several days ago and documents there confirmed his identity, Quetong Hardison, a government official in the area, told The Associated Press by telephone on Tuesday. He said officials were working to extract the remains and the wreckage in the Tombel area of southwest Cameroon.
"The area is very difficult to access and that is probably why it took such a long time for the plane to be found," Hardison said.
The last contact between Fitzpatrick, 59, and aviation authorities was on the night of June 22 as he approached Douala on Cameroon's coast. He had taken off earlier in the day from Kano, Nigeria.
His final destination was to be Odzala-Kokoua National Park in Republic of Congo, which is managed by African Parks, a non-profit group based in Johannesburg. The job of the former Peace Corps volunteer would have been to scan the central African park's clearings for elephant carcasses from his cockpit and alert rangers who could intercept poachers escaping with ivory tusks.
There was no mayday signal on the night of Fitzpatrick's disappearance, suggesting he crashed into a mountain without time to react, and that weather or a fuel shortage was not the cause. No signal was detected from the plane's emergency transmitter, which can be activated on impact or by the pilot.
Fitzpatrick's wife, Paula, and their three children live in Chelan, Washington. The family thanked those who helped in the search for the pilot, who had also worked for U.S. national parks.
"Bill's plane was lost nearly 10 months ago, and this brings some degree of closure for our family," the family said in an email to the AP. It said Fitzpatrick's last flight was not a "singular trip" but part of a "lifelong commitment" to conservation and philanthropy in Africa and the United States.