Plane, pilot go missing near Duluth

Searchers are looking for a missing pilot and plane near Duluth.

A Civil Air Patrol plane engaged in the search for a plane missing in Northeastern Minnesota departs Duluth International Airport on Sunday, June 10, 2012. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

The Civil Air Patrol says the plane — described as a white twin-engine Piper PA-31 Navajo with red and blue striping — with one person on board was reported to be on a flight from Fleming Field in South St. Paul to the Duluth airport and back to St. Paul on Friday.

A longtime friend of the missing pilot has confirmed to the News Tribune that searchers are looking for Michael Arthur Bratlie, 67, of Lakeville, Minn.

Don Nemcek, who attends St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Bloomington, Minn., with Bratlie, said he has known the retired Navy and Northwest Airlines pilot for 17 years.

“He raised two wonderful kids who are both doing well. I think the world of Mike; he’s a great person,” said Nemcek, who is a member of the Vernacular Video Mission International board of directors with Bratlie. “I’m really sad to hear that this has happened, but very hopeful that something can be found.”

The search area Sunday extended from Silver Bay to the Canadian border, including Lake Superior, said Col. Jerry Rosendahl of the Civil Air Patrol.

“Unfortunately, we’re not rich in clues or solid information,” Rosendahl said Sunday afternoon. “Our planning section is working on every kind of idea of what might have happened and sending our crews out to the search area. We work the inland searches and the Coast Guard works the water.”

Eight Civil Air Patrol airplanes and six ground teams are involved in the search. About 60 Civil Air Patrol volunteers are participating, working from a base at the Duluth airport.

Rosendahl said he expected crews to stop searching for the night as wind and thunderstorms rolled into Northeastern Minnesota before resuming this morning, weather pending.

“The weather situation is what will determine when the search stops for the night. It could be pretty well closed up by now,” he said just after 7 p.m. while on his way home to the Twin Cities. “As long as we can fly, we’ll be flying. We will continue to search as we can.”

Rosendahl said nothing in the flight plan indicated that the pilot would deviate from the St. Paul-to-Duluth and Duluth-to-St. Paul routes.

The incident may not have been the first for Bratlie.

According to federal aviation records cited on the website aircraftone.com, on Dec. 16, 1999, a plane owned and piloted by Michael A. Bratlie of Lakeville, Minn., made a forced landing about two miles short of a runway at Centennial Airport in Englewood, Colo., on a flight from North Platte, Neb., after a complete loss of power. The National Transportation Safety Board reported the pilot and one other passenger on board were not injured.

Nemcek said he has flown with Bratlie twice and attended the Oshkosh, Wis., airshow with him five years ago.

“Mike is a very meticulous, detailed person. When you flew with him, he had a reason for everything he did; very detailed and very systematic,” Nemcek said. “That’s why this news is very surprising.”

Chief Petty Officer Kyle Niemi with the Coast Guard 9th District public affairs office in Cleveland told the News Tribune the Coast Guard was contacted by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, which coordinates federal search-and-rescue missions in the Lower 48 for inland areas — essentially, any searches not taking place over ocean waters.

The Coast Guard was asked to search an area of Lake Superior where cell phone tracing had placed the plane at some point in its journey. A boat crew out of Duluth did not find anything, and had completed its involvement in the search as of Sunday morning, Niemi said.

“He’s a wonderful Christian man” with an active lifestyle that includes traveling and painting, Nemcek said. He said Bratlie has created paintings of the places to which he has traveled and went on several mission trips to the Philippines as a part of the VVMI board, which he joined in 2000.

Both men are members of their church choir.

“I probably run into him; probably talk to him three or four times a month, usually at church,” Nemcek said. “I sing in the choir, and Mike plays in the orchestra. He plays the trombone, and actually he is very musically inclined. I know he has a couple brass bands that he essentially leads and plays with outside in the community.”

The Civil Air Patrol asks anyone in Northeastern Minnesota with information to contact Maj. Paul Pieper at (651) 398-4044.

News Tribune staff writer Mark Stodghill, multimedia editor Andrew Krueger and the Associated Press contributed to this report. This story originally appeared at duluthnewstribune.com.

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