Search continues for missing Port Alsworth plane

An FAA cam at Lake Clark Pass West, at the northeast corner of Lake Clark, looking northeast. Ice fog conditions can develop quickly in this area, say local pilots, even when the weather is clear elsewhere. (Photo courtesy of FAA)
An FAA cam at Lake Clark Pass West, at the northeast corner of Lake Clark, looking northeast. Ice fog conditions can develop quickly in this area, say local pilots, even when the weather is clear elsewhere. (Photo courtesy of FAA)

A second day of search efforts continued for a plane that went missing between Port Alsworth and Anchorage on Wednesday. Four people from Port Alsworth were on board.

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The missing single engine Piper PA-28 Cherokee is owned by Lake Clark Air, but is used as a rental or training aircraft. The renting pilot, a passenger and his two children left Port Alsworth Wednesday morning. It was unclear early Thursday what their exact flight plan had been, but it was believed they were heading to Anchorage and were reported overdue early afternoon.

“The plane took off approximately 10:30 from Port Alsworth, and was scheduled to get to Merrill Field in Anchorage at about noon,” Alaska Air National Guard spokesman Staff Sgt. Edward Eagerton said. “The plane was supposed to be taking a route through Lake Clark Pass. The plane didn’t show up, so the gears of the rescue mission spooled up.”

An extensive search and rescue effort was launched Wednesday afternoon, with two fixed wing aircraft flying the route with rescuers on-board. An HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter joined the search later. Thick ice fog and the early sunset hampered search efforts.

“There was a lot of fog in the pass, so their search area was pretty limited, between that and darkness,” Eagerton said. “They flew the area around Port Alsworth, the north and south shore, and then on the other end of the pass on the Peninsula, and hadn’t found them yet.”

He pointed out that pilots could use night vision equipment to fly into the evening, but the fog was the limiting factor.

There was no emergency locator beacon transmitting from the area. The Cherokee is equipped with an ELT that should go off in the event of a crash, or can be manually activated after an unexpected landing.

The second day of the search started early Thursday, according to Eagerton.

“Five planes from the Civil Air Patrol are going to assist in the search,” Eagerton said at around 8:00 a.m. “As well they’re going to be launching the HH-60 and one of the C-130’s a little before first light so they’re going to be on station as the light comes up, and resume the search.”

By 1:00 p.m. Thursday, the search had produced no updates. Glen Alsworth, Sr., whose company owns the Cherokee, said the small, tight-knit community was prayerfully waiting for news.

“We’re so thankful that the assets that are put on the search effort are so incredible,” Alsworth said. “The military side, numerous wonderful assets on the search. Civil Air Patrol is out searching, private aircraft are out searching, and I just heard a little bit ago that a number of boats have launched at Lake Clark and are searching the shoreline as well. We’re very fortunate that so many folks are putting so much effort, and we’re all praying for a very quick and good resolution to it. We appreciate everyone’s thoughts and prayers.”

The weather through Lake Clark Pass was reported as less than ideal Wednesday, with some flights staying grounded on account of the thick ice fog. Lake Clark Pass is the main route for small aircraft traveling from Anchorage or Kenai in and out of southwest Alaska.

A little over a month ago, David McRae, 55, was killed in a crash while flying solo from Anchorage to Lake Clark through Merrill Pass, an accident still under investigation.