Two weeks after the loss of a Guardian Flight plane near Kake which left its crew of three missing and presumed dead, a signal from the wrecked aircraft has been discovered in nearby waters.

Clint Johnson, the National Transportation Safety Board’s Alaska chief, said a search vessel commissioned by aircraft operator Guardian Flight made the discovery Tuesday in waters off Kake. The U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search for the plane and its Juneau-based flight crew – pilot Patrick Coyle, 63, flight nurse Stacie Rae Morse, 30, and flight paramedic Margaret Langston Allen, 43 – after finding debris believed to be from the Beechcraft King Air 200.

Morse was pregnant when the plane went missing; the unborn baby was remembered as a fourth victim.

“They arrived on scene, the accident scene, first thing this morning,” Johnson said. “They put the acoustical locator equipment in the water and were able to detect a ping coming from the cockpit’s acoustical recorder.”

The duration of a plane’s underwater pinger varies by model, and Johnson said the one on the crashed plane was rated for 30 days. Tuesday’s discovery comes 14 days after the plane left Anchorage and was expected in Kake on the night of Jan. 29 – but never arrived.

“We wanted to get there before the battery and the pinger runs out,” Johnson said. “It appears we have done that.”

Guardian Flight has said depths in the six-square-mile search area, estimated with help from the NTSB, range from 300 to 1,000 feet. The company issued the following statement Tuesday afternoon:

We are confirming that the search efforts for Guardian Flight's missing crew and aircraft has taken a step forward. The underwater beacon ping from the cockpit voice recorder “black box” has been detected. There will now be efforts to narrow down its location through triangulation and to determine depth. We are hopeful that the Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicle (ROV) will assist in visually spotting the aircraft and be followed by successful recovery efforts. Again, our thoughts, prayers and deepest heartfelt feelings are extended to the families, friends and colleagues of our fellow crew members.

Tuesday’s development is the first step in preparing a subsequent voyage to examine and possibly recover the sunken plane. Johnson said the search vessel’s crew, with help from NTSB investigator Brice Banning, was attempting to determine the exact location and water depth.

“This is not the end of this, by any means; this is a very encouraging data point,” Johnson said. “Our intent is to locate the wreckage, put eyes on it, probably a [remotely operated vehicle].”

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