Page last updated at 11:04 GMT, Thursday, 4 June 2009 12:04 UK

Missing pilot flew to Switzerland

Map showing Kent and Switzerland

A light civilian aircraft which failed to arrive at its destination in Kent had been flown to Switzerland.

The missing two-seater plane had set off from Cambridge on Wednesday morning on the 100-mile trip to Lydd Airport, near Romney Marsh.

A search and rescue operation was launched after the plane last made contact near the mouth of the River Medway at Sheerness at about 1100 BST.

The RAF Rescue Centre in Kinloss said the pilot had turned up safe and well.

Spokesman Michael Mulford said the pilot had been told to communicate with air traffic control when he was back over dry land, but had failed to do so.

'Wild goose chase'

He said: "What he did in fact was take a left turn, to avoid what he said was an incoming weather front, and he flew all the way to Switzerland and he landed there.

"A lot of people spent a lot of time on what at the end of the day proved a wild goose chase."

The pilot, who is believed to be a European national with a Swiss address, flew more than 400 miles off course. He had an American licence.

A coastguard helicopter and an RAF Sea King helicopter from Wattisham Airfield, Suffolk, were scrambled on Wednesday to look for the plane, which was said to be a VariEze, fixed wing, homebuilt aircraft.

'Very apologetic'

The Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre (ARCC) at RAF Kinloss called off the search operation, which covered the Kent coast, the Isle of Grain and the Isle of Sheppey, after seven hours.

A "straight line" search was also carried out between Sheerness and Lydd Airport.

Mr Mulford added that the pilot was "very apologetic".

"His interpretation of the rules is that he did not need to inform anyone."

He said it would be down to other agencies, including the Civil Aviation Authority and the Federal Aviation Administration, to contemplate taking any action against the pilot.



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