Missing plane hunt called off by Coastguard

Emergency service wait at the end of Blackpool Airport runway after contact was lost with the plane piloted by Ian Stirling

Emergency service wait at the end of Blackpool Airport runway after contact was lost with the plane piloted by Ian Stirling

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The Coastguard has called off its search for a missing pilot whose plane is believed to have crashed in the sea near Blackpool.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) has now taken over the hunt for Ian Stirling, who went missing on Thursday.

The 73-year-old was flying solo in a single engine Rockwell Commander that was around three miles off the coast when contact was lost.

It is thought debris that washed up on the beach on Friday belonged to the plane.

Officials said Mr Stirling remains missing.

He had been flying from the Isle of Man, where he lived, to Blackpool when the plane went missing. His family said it was a journey he had made ‘many times’.

The AAIB has confirmed it is investigating the incident.

A Coastguard spokesman said: “We have terminated our search. It is now in the hands of the AAIB.”

Mr Stirling’s plane was due to land in Blackpool at 9.15am on Thursday. Contact was lost at around 9am, police said.

Several lifeboats and two helicopters took part in the ensuing search, which covered 45 square nautical miles.

A spokesman for Mr Stirling’s family said: “Ian was an experienced pilot who had flown this route many times.

“We are obviously in shock at what has happened and hoping against hope that he may be found alive.

“We’d like to thank everyone for their love and support at this difficult time and we would ask to be left alone to come to terms with what has happened.”

Lancashire Police said it had not been notified of any major developments in the investigation by the AAIB, which did not respond to requests for an update on its investigation yesterday.