1 rescued, 3 missing in Southeast Alaska helicopter crash
Search efforts are continuing Saturday to find three people missing after Friday night’s crash of a helicopter into Southeast Alaska waters, with a rescued teenage boy alive but gravely hurt.
The Airbus H125 helicopter’s missing occupants were identified Saturday afternoon by Alaska State Troopers spokesman Tim DeSpain as Palmer man David King, 53; Anchorage resident Josh Pepperd, 42; and his 11-year-old son, Andrew Pepperd. Their next of kin have been notified, DeSpain said.
Josh Pepperd is the president of Davis Constructors & Engineeers, an Alaska-based construction firm which claims credit for nearly $3 billion in projects across the state during its 40-year history.
The U.S. Coast Guard said Saturday evening that none of the missing people had been found.
"The Coast Guard located sections of the crashed helicopter’s fuselage, engine, rotor head, and front and rear seats washed up on the beach today but not any sign of the passengers," Coast Guard officials wrote.
Airbus Helicopters Inc. posted photos on its Facebook page Wednesday of the Pepperds taking delivery of the helicopter, which have since been taken down.
The Airbus, which was being flown on a long-distance trip to Wasilla from Grand Prairie, Texas, had been en route from Juneau to Yakutat when Coast Guard watchstanders were informed it was overdue as of 6:30 p.m. Friday.
“Two adults and two adolescents were aboard the crashed helicopter that was reported to be brand new out of the factory,” Coast Guard officials wrote in a statement. “The pilot is reported to have 40 years flying experience including Alaska flight time in both fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft.”
A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew rescued a 14-year-old boy from a nearby beach after the crash, which occurred off a beach about 3 miles east of Lituya Bay. Troopers and family friends identified him as Andrew Pepperd’s brother, Aiden.
Jeff Brodsky, who urged people to pray for the Pepperds on Facebook Saturday, said that according to Aiden his father was flying at the time of the crash with assistance from King, a longtime instructor and pilot. Aiden was thrown from the chopper still strapped into his seat and knocked out.
"His head was resting on a blade when he woke up which thankfully kept his head out of the water," Brodsky wrote. "He barely had the strength to unbuckle. He finally did and tip-toed to the shore."
Troopers said Aiden was flown to a Sitka hospital, then to Anchorage. By Saturday afternoon he was at Providence Alaska Medical Center, where staff listed him in critical but stable condition.
"He has broken ribs puncturing his lung," Brodsky wrote. "They decided to not do surgery today. They are just going to monitor him the rest of today and tonight. It is a real miracle that Aiden is in as good a shape as he is."
An initial search Friday found debris from the crashed Airbus, but no sign of the other three people on board.
“Apparently the wreckage was found about 100 feet from the shore,” DeSpain said. “It’s still trying to be determined if [those missing are] still in the wreckage or if they managed to get out.”
A Coast Guard spokesman, Petty Officer 1st Class Nate Littlejohn, said winds at the time of Aiden's rescue were at about 10 mph, with seas nearby at about 5 to 8 feet.
On Saturday, another Jayhawk crew and the Coast Guard cutter Bailey Barco were searching the area for the helicopter's other occupants, with support from a Civil Air Patrol aircraft. Two handlers and search dogs with the Southeast Alaska group SEADOGs were flown in by the Coast Guard, but were unable to find anything.
Littlejohn refused to describe Saturday's effort as a recovery operation.
“We are still out there searching for survivors,” Littlejohn said.
According to Clint Johnson, the National Transportation Safety Board’s Alaska chief, the chopper was being tracked on its trip by family members, who first reported it overdue.
“They noticed that the tracking system had stopped between Juneau and Yakutat,” Johnson said. “Yakutat was the next fueling stop they were scheduled to make; they did not make it.”
An NTSB investigator and a helicopter engineer will be sent to the scene to learn more about the crash, Johnson said.
The Bailey Barco will continue search efforts for the helicopter occupants overnight Saturday, with the air search set to resume Sunday morning.
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