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Family: 24-hour delay to report US pilot missing

In this March 2013 photo taken by pilot Rene Joubert and released by the family of Jerry Krause, the twin-engine Beechcraft 1900C aircraft that Krause was flying when he disappeared on April 7, 2013, is shown parked at an unidentified location. Ten days ago, on April 7, Krause disappeared together with his plane just miles from a refueling stop at a West African island in the middle of a tropical storm of thunder and lightning. (AP Photo/Rene Joubert) Copyright 2010, The Associated Press

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Aviation officials on Sao Tome island waited 24 hours before reporting the disappearance of an American pilot and his small aircraft off the coast of West Africa, the missing man's family said on Wednesday.

Officials of the twin-island nation of Sao Tome and Principe could not be reached for comment despite repeated attempts by telephone on Thursday.

The family of Jerry Krause, a missionary from Waseca, Minnesota, is sending a representative to Sao Tome in an effort to clarify what happened after the control tower lost contact with the pilot and his Beechcraft 1900C as it was approaching the airport amid a tropical storm on the afternoon of April 7.

"His plane was never reported missing by Sao Tome until Monday afternoon after 3 p.m. when my mom contacted the (U.S.) embassy in Mali," Krause's daughter, Jessica, told The Associated Press. She said the first search by boat also did not start until Monday afternoon, some 24 hours after he went missing.

"It was us having to call them to say 'Please, send someone out to look for my dad.'" Jessica Krause said by telephone from Bamako, Mali, where she flew from the United States to be with her mother.

The family has filed a missing person report in the United States to allow the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board to investigate Krause's disappearance. The board was notified of Krause's case on April 9 and has named a representative to participate in the investigation, said Hilary Fuller Renner, spokeswoman for the Bureau of African Affairs at the U.S. State Department.

Jules Kim, the State Department's international transportation officer, said little can be done until it is decided which country will lead the investigation. That country normally would contact the NTSB because of the U.S. interest — Krause is a U.S. citizen and the plane was built in the United States.

Kim said there was debate about whether the lead investigator would be South Africa, the country from which Krause's flight originated, or Sao Tome. In Johannesburg, a spokeswoman for the South African Civil Aviation Authority, Marie Bray, said Sao Tome is leading the investigation.

It was not possible to get confirmation from Sao Tome. The AP made several calls to that country's civil aviation authority, known by its acronym INAC, and to the airport management and air safety company, ENASA, but no official was available to comment on the Krause family's concerns.

On Wednesday, the Sao Tome control tower chief Januario Barreto said Krause had called in to say he was 9 miles (14 kilometers) from the airport just before 4 p.m. local time (1600 GMT) April 7. Then, he said, lightning struck the tower and knocked out the power. When generators kicked in soon afterward, Krause could no longer be reached.

Barreto said traffic controllers immediately contacted the nearest control towers, at Libreville, Gabon, and Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, but they had not heard from Krause.

Jessica Krause said officials had never once mentioned that lightning had struck the tower in the many calls made over 10 days on the family's behalf, including by the U.S. Embassy. It seemed a strange omission, she said.

Pilot friends of Krause at the Sahel Aviation Service for which he worked in Bamako, Mali, called all airports within flying distance from around 4 p.m. Monday afternoon until 9 p.m. that night.

"Several pilots made the calls trying to figure out where he was as no one had reported that he was missing," she said. "We called them (other airports) 24 hours later and not one of them had any idea what we were talking about when we mentioned a missing aircraft heading to Sao Tome Sunday evening."

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.