Friday, March 7, 2014
A Maine Warden Service pilot forced to land his plane on Interstate 95 last spring has apparently ended his 10-year career.
A Warden Service plane takes off from Interstate 95 in Litchfield on April 26.
Staff photo by Joe Phelan
A Warden Service plane is parked on a ramp of a former highway rest stop on April 26 along Interstate 95 in Litchfield.
Staff photo by Joe Phelan
Dan Dufault announced Saturday on his Facebook page that he was leaving the warden service.
Dufault said he resigned last week, though the state Bureau of Human Resources continues to list him as actively employed.
The Warden Service referred requests for information on Dufault’s employment status to Cpl. John MacDonald, who declined to comment.
“I am looking forward to my next 10 year adventure,” Dufault wrote. “I haven’t decided what it will be just yet, but the possibilities are endless and the future is bright.”
Attempts to reach Dufault via telephone and Facebook Wednesday were unsuccessful. There was nothing on his Facebook page that indicated his decision was connected to the April 26 forced landing on Interstate 95. Dufault’s Facebook post includes musings about his service with the wardens, which included stocking fish and searches for lost people and even bank robbers.
No one was injured during the landing, which occurred about 8:50 a.m. in Litchfield on the northbound lanes of I-95 near a former rest area at mile marker 98. The single-propeller plane had taken off about 35 minutes earlier from Belfast Municipal Airport, headed for Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport.
Dufault and passenger Charlie Todd, a biologist with the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, were conducting a survey of eagles’ nests when the forced landing occurred. Todd said the survey had not yet started when the plane’s power began to fail.
Witnesses said the 1968 Cessna 172, which Dufault helped the warden service rebuild for service, was not running when it glided over the treetops and onto the interstate. Initial reports from witnesses and state sources indicated the plane had run out of fuel, but warden service officials quickly revised the assertion and claimed the plane had suffered an unspecified mechanical problem.
The plane remained parked in the rest area parking lot for about two and a half hours before it was refueled and flown to the nearby Augusta State Airport, where officials said it would be inspected.
Durward Humphrey, the chief pilot for the warden service, declined to confirm whether the plane had run out of fuel.
“Fuel was a concern,” he said at the time. “That’s why we added fuel.”
The Federal Aviation Administration said in a prepared statement that it would investigate the landing and that preliminary information suggested the plane experienced a mechanical problem.
The FAA has yet to respond to the Kennebec Journal’s Freedom of Information Act requests for reports connected to the incident.
Dufault, who is based at Turner Aviation Field, joined the warden service in 2003. A news release at the time indicated he had received his pilot’s license when he was 16 and flown for Currier’s Air Service in Greenville before joining the warden service.
Dufault also spent more than four years as a bush pilot flying for two sporting lodges in Alaska before returning to Maine.
A licensed aviation mechanic, Dufault was one of three warden service pilots to spend a total of about 500 hours refurbishing the Cessna 172 after it was given to the state in 2007. The four-seat plane, which was an Air Force surplus, received a number of upgrades, including a new engine.
Officials said at the time it was put into service in 2010 and that the plane could stay in the air for hours and be anywhere in the state within two hours.
The day of the forced landing several fellow wardens praised Dufault’s ability to land the crippled plane without causing injury or damage.
“He’s a very experienced pilot, and he knew exactly what to do,” said Sgt. Jason Luce. “He knew it was much safer to land here than a field or the woods. I’d get in the plane with him right now.”