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Search for Former Dos Pueblos Water Polo Player Underway

Friends and Family of Kayla Rodriguez Doggedly Scan Humboldt Coast

Kayla Rodriguez and Justin Winfrey | Credit: Courtesy

Friends and family of Kayla Rodriguez are leaving no stone unturned in their efforts to find the 27-year-old, who was a member of the Dos Pueblos High School girls water polo powerhouse in 2009. Rodriguez disappeared a week ago during a night-flight in a small plane in Humboldt County with a friend, Justin Winfrey, who had recently earned his pilot’s license.

Rodriguez had moved to San Francisco, where she was a labor and delivery nurse. She and Winfrey, who was her landlord, had left Marin County’s Gnoss Field on October 24 at around 6:30 p.m after fueling up. Wright was piloting a red-and-white Piper Arrow, tail number N4958J, which he had purchased in August. They were headed for Shelter Cove, apparently a favorite destination for Winfrey, to have dinner at nearby Gyppo Ale Mill. They flew out of Shelter Cove around 9 p.m. Rodriguez’s family says radar tracked the plane to five miles out to sea, between Shelter Cove and Rockport to the south, where it dropped off the screen.

Winfrey had bought the Piper Arrow from Infinite Air Center, located at Albany Municipal Airport near Corvallis, Oregon, the flight school posted at Pictame. Winfrey earned his private pilot certificate in March, according to the FAA pilot database, which does not currently show an instrument rating for night flying. He trained at Infinite Air, said Tony Hann, the flight-school owner. Hann said Winfrey’s schooling included about three hours flying instrument-only, but he said he didn’t think Winfrey had his instrument rating.

The Coast Guard station at Humboldt Bay and the area Civil Air Patrol have searched for the Piper Arrow by airplane and helicopter since it disappeared, though the operation was initially hampered by windy weather, according to media reports.

Rodriguez’s boyfriend, Adam Panetta, set up a GoFundMe page on behalf of Rodriguez’s mother, Ana Robledo, to redouble the search efforts. Larry Rodriguez, Kayla’s father, and Jasmine Jones Herring, Winfrey’s sister, made a national appeal for help on the cable station HLN on Wednesday.

Hoping for the smallest scrap of evidence to narrow the search area, Panetta, has called for volunteer searchers, pilots, and boatmen at his Facebook page, many of whom have searched the coast. Family members have handed out flyers from Fort Bragg to Hardy, California. Execushield, a San Francisco-based private security firm, joined the search, offering volunteers with military experience. A helicopter did a “low and slow” search of the coastline on Wednesday, funded by the GoFundMe response, Panetta reported. With determination, he stated on Facebook that the search continues this weekend.

[Update: Nov. 5] Thanking searchers and friends for their efforts and love, Rodriguez’s family sadly said on Tuesday that they’d suspended the search for Kayla Rodriguez and Justin Winfrey without finding them.

Correction: Winfrey fueled the Piper Arrow in Novato, not Shelter Cove.

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