‘This will be it’: NTSB recounts recovery of crashed Guardian Flight plane
Federal investigators are assessing the remnants of a medevac plane carrying three people that crashed offshore near Kake in January, after its recovery from Southeast Alaska waters.
The National Transportation Safety Board posted images Monday of the Beechcraft King Air 200, operated by Guardian Flight, as well as its cockpit voice recorder. The twin-engine turboprop had been en route from Anchorage to Kake to pick up a patient on the night of Jan. 29 but never arrived, prompting weeks of searching.
The plane’s occupants — pilot Patrick Coyle, 63; flight paramedic Margaret Langston, 43; and flight nurse Stacie Rae Morse, 30, who was pregnant at the time — were never found during the extensive air and sea search. Its suspension left them missing and presumed dead, before a recovery vessel contracted by Guardian Flight located an underwater signal from the plane.
Last week, Guardian Flight officials said the search was “coming to an end” after the exhaustion of all possible efforts to find and recover the plane and those on board.
Clint Johnson, the NTSB’s Alaska chief, said Monday that the plane was salvaged from deep water after a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) secured straps to the fuselage, allowing a crane to raise it. The investigator assigned to the crash, Brice Banning, was present during the recovery mission funded by Guardian Flight and its insurers.
“The depth is right around 500 feet,” Johnson said. “At those depths, everything had to be done with a ROV.”
Although the recovered parts include much of the Beech’s fuselage and tail, as well as its engines and most of their propeller blades, Johnson said no remains of the plane’s occupants were found.
One of the NTSB’s first tasks is attempting to glean information from the plane’s cockpit voice recorder, which Johnson said suffered damage from both the plane’s impact and its long immersion in Frederick Sound.
“We want to understand what happened,” Johnson said. “Right now, our engineers and our cockpit voice recorder lab are working very, very hard to recover that data.”
Although the recovery effort was largely successful, there haven’t been any plans to return to the site for another search.
“There’s nothing that’s on the horizon for that,” he said. “This will be it.”
The plane’s fuselage was taken to Juneau for storage, Johnson said. Investigators, Guardian Flight officials and representatives from Beechcraft as well as the engines’ manufacturers will further examine the wreckage in the coming weeks.
Correction: This story has been edited to correct the date the flight went missing, as well as the name of the missing flight paramedic.
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