By CBSBoston.com Staff

ORLEANS (CBS) – The U.S. Coast Guard is searching for a small plane off Cape Cod.

The pilot, who has not been identified, was alone when he left Reading, Pennsylvania Sunday afternoon and was supposed to meet a friend in Chatham Sunday night.

Searchers scoured the surf roughly two miles off Nauset Beach Sunday night and most of the day Monday, but found no debris or oil slick from the single engine Piper Cherokee.

“It’s a needle in the haystack, is one of the analogies you can use,” said Chatham Harbormaster Stuart Smith.

“He wasn’t talking to air traffic control or anything like that so no one was really keeping track of his flight,” said Chatham Airport Manager Tim Howard.

The pilot did not have a flight plan, which is not required for Visual Flight Rules, but recommended when traveling over water or at night.

“Fortunately the person who was waiting for him to pick him up made the call to police and the FAA saying I’m supposed to meet this guy and he never showed up because had she not done that, no one would have known,” Howard said.

The call came two-and-a-half hours after he didn’t arrive and sent the FAA scrambling to review its radar data, which had picked up the plane over Hyannis and approaching Chatham until it vanished just before 7 p.m., dropping 4,000 feet per minute basically in a nosedive.

“That would be very abnormal and not good,” Howard said.

Between the delay in the friend’s call and no flight plan, it was hours before authorities could estimate a possible crash location and mount a search.

“That’s a long time,” Smith said. “Hours later in the open ocean, it’s just, it’s a lifetime.”

The Coast Guard is searching for a plane that was traveling to Chatham (WBZ-TV)

“Tides change, winds change so hopefully some evidence shows up on the beach,” Howard said.

Authorities released pictures of the plane on the remote chance the radar data is misleading, and the pilot landed safely somewhere else.

The ocean is 60-70 feet deep in the search area. Two Coast Guard cutters will search throughout the night and the full search will resume at Tuesday morning.

CBSBoston.com Staff