Gurney's Inn
September 05, 2007

Missing Pilot Believed Dead

Over a week after pilot Kennworth Eaton, 76, disappeared while flying his Piper Cherokee 6 plane from Spadaro Airport in East Moriches, his family continues to search.

On August 25, Eaton aborted an approach to Gabreski Airport in Westhampton then dropped off the radar off the coast of Eastern Long Island. While Eaton's last voice communication was nine miles north of Gabreski Airport, eventually, his family was able to retrieve radar and learned that his last known position was "over the ocean."

The family also learned that a fisherman in the area had reported on the Sunday after Eaton's disappearance that he'd heard a low-flying plane and later seen debris, including a tire, what appeared to be insulation, and most telling, black oil cans that Eaton always kept in his plane.

Still, on Monday, Kennworth Eaton II, Eaton's son, said that while a Coast Guard search has been suspended, the police search and his family's quest is still very much alive.

In fact, Eaton II planned to go out yesterday with a sonar device yesterday to search the spot in the Atlantic Ocean where his father's last known coordinates were located.

And other family members have continued to search both the Pine Barrens and Southold for debris.

The days since Eaton's disappearance have been filled with uncertainty for his family, as well as a mounting sense of frustration over inaccuracies in published reports and some lack of coordination among involved agencies.

For example, said Eaton's daughter Kathleen, while reports indicated that her father was on medication at the time of his disappearance, this is not the truth. Nor was he "frail," as some have perceived; Eaton was healthy and strong and working as a contractor. "He has more energy than people half his age," she said, also fondly remembering a trip to Manhattan when Eaton wanted to stay out and attend a jazz club long after she and her fiancé were ready to head home.

The nightmare began on the night of August 25, when police came to the door of Eaton's Hampton Bays home and said, "He's missing," said Eaton II.

While reports indicated that Eaton was out on a "test flight," scheduled to land at Gabreski, that is not true, said family members. Instead, Eaton was out on a flight, ensuring everything was fine for a scheduled trip planned the next day. He had planned to return to Spadaro and only radioed Gabreski, his family assumes, when a dense fog rolled in.

Eaton was trained in both visual and instrument flight reading and was known for his meticulous attention to detail, going over the instruments carefully before each flight. His plane had been recently inspected.

And so, if there was an accident, his family is certain it was not caused by pilot error, but simply by a sad twist of fate. "Bad things happen to good people," said Eaton II.

After Eaton spoke with the tower at Gabreski at 1:55 p.m., staff became concerned when he never made the transition from the tower to New York Approach and called authorities.

But, because their father was not known to check in over the weekend, they were not entirely sure there was a crisis until he failed to turn up for work that Monday.

Last week, his relatives gathered around the table at Eaton's Hampton Bays home and remembered the man who'd loved aviation for a lifetime.

His first plane was a J3 Cub; he continued flying for decades and shared the passion with his son. Eaton's children laughed as they remembered a plane Eaton began to build himself; construction ceased when he was unable to get a wing he was building out of the room where he was working.

Kathleen and her fiancé, Ahmed Tafti, are scheduled to be married this October. Although he didn't have "a lot of money," Eaton proudly purchased his daughter's wedding gown and went with her for all her fittings. Tafti, whose dream it is to fly, remembers the man who made his dream come true. The days since Eaton's disappearance, said Tafti, have been "an emotional rollercoaster."

Should his story have an unhappy ending, Eaton's family wants to remind themselves that he died doing what he loved best. If it is inevitable, they said, they want to hold tight to one truth: "He went out in a blaze of glory. He went out flying."

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