Coast Guard suspends search for missing medevac plane
The U.S. Coast Guard has suspended its search for the three people missing from a medevac flight that was expected in Kake but never landed in the Southeast Alaska town Tuesday night.
The decision came hours after Guardian Flight, the plane's operator, said debris found Wednesday in waters near Kake is likely from the aircraft.
A Coast Guard statement said the search was suspended Thursday night after covering an area of more than 240 square miles.
"Aircraft debris was located in the search area Wednesday and appears to be from the Guardian flight," Coast Guard officials wrote. "Despite the search efforts, no other debris was located Wednesday night or Thursday."
Randy Lyman, Guardian Flight’s senior vice president of operations, said in an emailed statement Thursday evening the company is saddened hear the news, but will continue its recovery efforts.
"We appreciate the huge efforts from the Coast Guard, other organizations and the community to find the aircraft and crew.
While the formal search and rescue effort has been discontinued and we recognize the gravity of the situation, we will continue efforts to recover our friends in order to hopefully reunite them with their beloved families.
Our hearts are heavy, and we respectfully offer our deepest thoughts and prayers to our lost employees and their families. We will miss Pilot Patrick Coyle, Flight Nurse Stacie Rae Morse, and Flight Paramedic Margaret Langston. This tragedy is dreadful for everyone as they were our friends and neighbors.
We continue to ask for everyone’s prayers and support as we focus on the wellbeing of the surviving families and the entire Guardian Flight team."
Lyman issued a statement earlier Thursday on the missing King Air 200, which had left Anchorage Tuesday en route to Kake. Its Juneau-based crew included pilot Patrick Coyle, 63; flight nurse Stacie Rae Morse, 30; and flight paramedic Margaret Langston, 43.
"(T)he debris found by searchers unfortunately gives us a very strong indication that it was our airplane," Lyman wrote. "While search and rescue efforts are continuing in an attempt to find survivors, we are resigned to accept that the aircraft was ours."
Langston’s name had changed because she was recently married, Lyman said.
Two U.S. Coast Guard cutters and an MH-60 Jayhawk crew, along with local search and rescue groups, discovered debris including part of an airplane wing Wednesday afternoon.
Coast Guard spokeswoman Chief Petty Officer Charly Hengen Thursday afternoon that the debris found Wednesday still hasn't been explicitly identified as having come from the plane. Hengen said the National Transportation Safety Board would be the agency to identify the aircraft, and that the investigation has not been handed off to the agency.
The NTSB's Alaska chief, Clint Johnson, said investigators have been listening to recordings of communications between the pilot of the missing plane and Anchorage-based air traffic controllers. He said a preliminary analysis of the recordings showed there were no signs of distress as the plane began its approach to Kake.
Johnson said the recordings have been sent to Washington D.C. where they can be magnified and enhanced to search for further clues about what happened.
Lauren Maxwell contributed information to this story.
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