Update (Thursday, 9:30 p.m.) — Katherine Rose, KCAW – Sitka
A search has been suspended for the medevac plane that vanished over
Southeast Alaska with three crew members on board.
The U.S. Coast Guard announced, on Thursday evening, that they were calling off the search for the Guardian Flight air ambulance that was due to land in Kake on Tuesday night but never arrived.
Coast Guard conducted aerial and maritime searches for 63 hours over the course of three days. They continued those efforts late into Thursday afternoon with the cutters Anacapa and Bailey Barco, as well as crews from Air Station Sitka and Air Station Kodiak, Search and Rescue teams from Kake and surrounding communities and volunteers. Together, they scoured 240 square nautical miles in an area 20 miles west of Kake.
Chief Charly Hengen, public affairs specialist for the Coast Guard, confirmed that the debris found on Wednesday appeared to be from the Guardian Flight, but said that no other debris was found over the course of their three-day effort. That was one of several factors that led the Coast Guard to call off the search.
“I think the weather was going to become pretty severe over the next few days. That could have been taken into consideration,” Hengen said. “The extensive amount of time and the saturation of the search area that we did. Plus they were not able to locate any other debris.”
A third day of searching for a twin-engine Beechcraft medevac plane that vanished Tuesday over Southeast Alaska has yielded no sign of the three crew members aboard.
U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Michael Kahl said efforts by Coast Guard ships and aircraft have been ongoing day and night. Local rescuers have also been combing nearby beaches.
“We’re focused right now on finding survivors,” Kahl told reporters Thursday in Juneau. “With the incoming weather, we’re throwing all of the resources right now to that effect. We will continue to search either until we have found them, or we are comfortable that we have given the best effort to locate them in that search area.”
Freezing temperatures and high winds are forecast in the search area around the community of Kake, where the Guardian Flight air ambulance was due at 6:19 p.m. Tuesday.
Floating debris was found the next day in the search area about 22 miles west of Kake.
Guardian Flight Senior Vice President of Operations Randy Lyman released a statement Wednesday:
“While the Coast Guard and others continue the search for the missing Guardian Flight aircraft off the coast of Alaska, the debris found by searchers unfortunately gives us a very strong indication that it was our airplane. While search and rescue efforts are continuing in an attempt to find survivors, we are resigned to accept that the aircraft was ours. On board were Pilot Patrick Coyle, 63, Flight Nurse Stacie Rae Morse, 30, and Flight Paramedic Margaret Langston, 43, all based in Juneau. (Margaret was earlier identified as Margaret Langston Allen, but we have been informed by her family that she was recently married, and her last name is now Langston.) We continue to ask for everyone’s prayers and support as we focus on families, crew members and the entire Guardian Flight team and extended family of all those involved.”
Kahl said the National Transportation Safety Board will examine the debris being held in Kake.
“We located what appears to be a piece of the wing just north and west of the last known position of the aircraft,” Kahl said. “We now have that wing in our possession and are holding it for the NTSB.”
The Coast Guard commander said this search effects many in the close-knit community of first responders.
“Southeast Alaska is a very small community. We’re all very close here,” Kahl said. “We know the three passengers on board are friends and neighbors. We focus all of our energy on every search we do, but this one is particularly personal for us.”
The trio had left Anchorage and were bound for Kake to medevac a patient from the community’s clinic.
Their plane never arrived, and signals from its electronic locating transmitter haven’t been detected. Kahl said the patient was later flown by another carrier.
Guardian’s operations in Alaska remained suspended Thursday afternoon pending more information on its missing plane and crew.
Guardian is one of three air ambulances operating in Southeast Alaska.