Aircraft debris found in medevac-plane search near Kake
Searchers have found aircraft debris, as they seek a medevac aircraft carrying three people missing near the Southeast Alaska community of Kake since Tuesday night.
On Wednesday night Guardian Flight, the operator of the missing King Air 200, released the names of its Juneau-based crew – pilot Patrick Coyle, 63, flight nurse Stacie Rae Morse, 30, and flight paramedic Margaret Langston Allen, 43.
"We continue to ask for prayers and support as we focus on these crew members and their families during this very difficult time," Guardian Flight officials wrote.
Randy Lyman, the company's senior vice president of operations, said Tuesday night that Guardian Flight had initiated a stand-down of its entire fleet until more information is available.
The U.S. Coast Guard emphasized Wednesday afternoon that it wasn't clear whether the discovery was linked to the missing aircraft.
"It was reported that debris from a plane was located in the water approximately 22 miles west of Kake, near the south tip of Admiralty Island in the Chatham Strait," Coast Guard officials wrote. "The Coast Guard cannot confirm the debris is from the overdue aircraft."
Coast Guard spokeswoman Chief Petty Officer Charly Hengen said Wednesday evening that a Wrangell Search and Rescue floatplane initially spotted the debris from the air, before it was retrieved by the crew of the Coast Guard cutter Anacapa.
“It appears to be a piece of aircraft wing,” Hengen said.
Additional pieces of debris were found Wednesday by an MH-60 Jayhawk crew out of Air Station Sitka, according to Hengen.
Another cutter, the Bailey Barco, had been sent Wednesday to assist the Anacapa in the search.
"The electronic locating transmitter is not broadcasting for the overdue aircraft," Coast Guard officials wrote in a statement at midday Wednesday.
David Berg, assistant chief of the Petersburg Volunteer Fire Department, said firefighters there had traveled 50 miles to the search area Wednesday morning in a 32-foot boat.
“The weather can be – can kick up pretty bad there,” Berg said. “There can be some serious issues with wind and tidal action so they’re in an area that’s really exposed to winds from the north, from all directions.”
As a first responder, Berg offered a realistic assessment of any potential rescue within the search area.
“You can imagine it’s going to be very difficult for someone to survive, having gone down in an airplane and yet being exposed to the weather, these kinds of conditions,” Berg said. “Fortunately it’s not freezing; it’s been between 32 and 40 in the area.”
Hengen said the King Air 200 had taken off Tuesday from Anchorage with three people on board. It had been expected in Kake at 6:19 p.m., but never arrived.
"They were going there to pick up a person in Kake," Hengen said.
On Wednesday, Hengen said the Coast Guard wasn't aware of any distress transmissions from the missing flight.
"Nothing was reported like that," Hengen said. "They just lost radar contact."
Hengen said the search area was based on the King Air's last known position.
"It is roughly a 30-by-20 square-nautical-mile area inside of that search grid," she said.
Alaska State Troopers spokesman Tim DeSpain said the plane was reported missing at about 7 p.m. Tuesday.
In addition to the Coast Guard cutters and a Sitka-based MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew, the Alaska Army National Guard has sent a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter to assist in Wednesday's search. Petersburg Search and Rescue, as well as troopers and Alaska Marine Highway System ferries were also involved in the search effort.
Good Samaritans in the area have also helped look for the plane. Hengen said Wednesday evening that search efforts will now be refocused on the area where the wing was discovered.
"The Anacapa and the Bailey Barco will continue the search through the night," she said. "The rest of the SAR team, they are staying the night in Kake and are going to continue the search at first light."
Berg said the Petersburg searchers were set to spend the night in Kake, then resume their work Thursday morning. He expressed a special sympathy for the Guardian Flight crew, saying their flights are a familiar sight.
“We work very closely, hand-in-hand with the folks from Guardian and we certainly know those people; they come into Petersburg and pick up our patients on a regular basis,” Berg said. “You know, this is part of our family, and it’s real important to us as a community to be behind the effort.”
Chris Klint and Cassie Schirm contributed information to this story.
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