MESA, AZ - Civil Air Patrol is still searching for a small plane that left Falcon Field in Mesa Thursday afternoon around 2:20 p.m. for Winslow.
According to the Civil Air Patrol, the plane owned by CAE Flight School was reported missing when it didn't return back to the school.
FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said the plane is a single-engine Piper PA28 and had three people on board, a flight instructor and two flight students.
The aircraft had a planned diversion to Payson.
Civil Air Patrol Lt. Col. Bob Ditch says aircraft began searching an area west of Payson for the plane early Friday.
That's where the plane was last tracked on radar and where cell phone records last placed the passengers' phones.
"The cell phone does continue to say 'Hey I'm over here, please let me know when I'm getting an email message or let me know when a phone call comes in,'" said Lt. Col. Ditch.
Ditch went on to explain that smart phones continue to ping towers even when they are not in use. Forensic experts can use the cell phone signal to narrow down the search field.
According to Col. Ditch, they can even tell what side of the tower it is hitting and then guestimate how far it may be by the strength of the signal.
"That also has to do with how strong the battery life was of the cell phone and where it was, was it in a ravine, valley, was it being reflected off a canyon wall? So there are a lot of thing that get in the way sometimes of it being as simple as how far it was from the tower." said Lt. Col. Ditch.
But cell phone forensics has been successful. Civil Air Patrol search crews most recently used it to find a missing Alzheimer's patient.
Now they are hoping it will help them once again.
Search planes spent all day Friday going over the rough terrain near Fossil Creek, looking for anything that could lead them to the plane, but had no luck.
"Just a change in the sun's degrees can change a shadow that can hide something, so we keep pushing air craft over and over again, many times over the same spot in hopes that one of the aircrafts will see something." said Lt. Col. Ditch.
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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