The Alaska Army National Guard has joined a widening dragnet spearheaded by the Coast Guard to find a medical plane that disappeared Tuesday night but officials confirmed reports of aircraft debris in the Chatham Strait.
Coast Guard Sector Juneau watchstanders received a warning from the Sitka Flight Service Station that a twin-engine Guardian King Air 200 medical flight was due to land at the village of Kake — about 635 miles southeast of Anchorage on the northwest shore of Kupreanof Island — at 6:19 p.m. Tuesday but never made it.
On Wednesday night, Coast Guard officials told Navy Times that there appears to be debris from an airplane floating in the water about 22 miles west of Kake, near the south tip of Admiralty Island in the Chatham Strait.
But officials insist that they can’t confirm that the debris is from the overdue aircraft.
“We have received reports of debris in the water and are concentrating search efforts near that area,” said Capt. Stephen White, Coast Guard Sector Juneau’s commander in a statement emailed to Navy Times. “Through our coordinated efforts with all involved we continue to actively search. We are thankful for the assistance rendered.”
Guardian Flight has issued a statement identifying them as pilot Patrick Coyle, 63, flight nurse Stacie Rae Morse, 30, and flight paramedic Margaret Langston Allen, 43, all based in Juneau.
Company spokesman Jim Gregory confirmed to Navy Times that they were flying to Kake “in order to pick up a patient for transport.”
The electronic locating transmitter is not broadcasting for the lost aircraft, according to Coast Guard officials.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday evening that Clint Johnson, chief of the National Transportation Safety Board in Alaska, says no clues have been immediately found in the electronic search of archived data showing the flight pattern of the missing plane.
Crews from the 110-foot Coast Guard cutter Anacapa and an Air Station Sitka MH-60 Jayhawk rescue helicopter began combing the seas for the lost plane last night.
They’ve been joined by an Alaska Army National Guard UH-60 rescue helicopter crew and teams from Petersburg Search and Rescue, the Alaska State Troopers, Kake Search and Rescue, Wrangell Search and Rescue, Alaska Marine Highway Ferries and “Good Samaritans,” the operators of commercial vessels and residents taking to their boats who have pitched in to help find the aircraft.
The Coast Guard Cutter Bailey Barco is sailing from Ketchikan to the area, too.
Coast Guard officials are holding out hope, despite falling snow, overcast skies, sustained winds at 7 miles per hour and an air temperature currently hovering around 39 degrees.
The water temperature is 42 degrees. Swells are peaking at 3 feet, Coast Guard reported.
Randy Lyman, Senior Vice President of Operations for Guardian Flight, issued a statement on the company’s official website saying that he’s grounding its “entire fleet until further information is available" and pledged to cooperate fully with the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration on probes into the cause of the mishap.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to our fellow employees and their families during this very trying time,” Lyman wrote.
Coast Guard rescues in the waters around Kake aren’t uncommon.
In 2002, the Petersburg-based cutter Elderberry joined with Glacier Valley Fire and Rescue to evacuate and treat five passengers on board a LAB Airlines plane that made an emergency landing on Kupreanof Island.
The pilot’s window had been splattered in oil, obstructing his vision, and a Coast Guard Air Station Sitka helicopter crew directed him to make a safe landing on a sandbar.
Over the nine months, the cutter Anacapa alone has assisted in the rescue of the grounded cruise ship Alaskan Dream and saved the operator of another vessel that broke apart near the Barrier Islands.
Prine came to Navy Times after stints at the San Diego Union-Tribune and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors and the Combat Infantryman Badge.