Plane debris found in search for missing air ambulance, crew members ID’d
Officials found what appeared “to be part of an airplane’s wing” near the last known location of a Guardian Flight air ambulance
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Searchers in Alaska found airplane debris Wednesday during a search for a medical airplane that went missing with three people aboard, the Coast Guard said Wednesday.
Searchers could not immediately confirm the debris found Wednesday is of the missing King Air 200 plane operated by operated by Guardian Flight, Chief Petty Officer Charly Hengen said. The debris was found in the water near the south tip of Admiralty Island about 22 miles (35 kilometers) west of the tiny southeast Alaska village of Kake.
The search is continuing for the missing plane, despite the discovery of debris, Hengen said.
The King Air 200 twin-engine plane took off from Anchorage on Tuesday and was expected to land in Kake at 6:19 p.m. to pick up a patient, but it never arrived, the Coast Guard said.
Guardian Flight released the names of those onboard in a statement Wednesday evening: pilot Patrick Coyle, 63, flight nurse Stacie Rae Morse, 30, and flight paramedic Margaret Langston Allen, 43. All were based in Juneau, according to the statement.
Federal accident investigators on Wednesday were reviewing radar flight information received from the plane, but no clues to what happened to the plane were immediately found in the search of data showing the plane's flight pattern, said Clint Johnson, chief of the National Transportation Safety Board in Alaska.
"We don't even know for sure that we have an accident," he said.
The Coast Guard said no electronic locating transmitter signal has been activated from the missing plane.
When the plane failed to arrive in Kake, residents in a dozen boats went out Tuesday night to search, and some went back out Wednesday, City Administrator Rudy Bean said.
"It's just a sad situation," he said.
The search by boats, ferries and aircraft was focused on an area of sea about 20 miles (32 kilometers) west of Kake, Hengen said. "We're just diligently still continuing the search and hope that we find the overdue aircraft and individuals," she said.
Guardian Flight's other Alaska aircraft were grounded during the search, company spokesman Jim Gregory said.
The Utah-based company initially grounded all of its 85 aircraft across the U.S. as a show of respect for the missing. It gradually re-started operations with aircraft based outside of Alaska.
"That really gave our employees time to reflect on what's happened to the missing crewmembers and to pray," Gregory said.
Light rain, 7 mph winds and 10-mile visibility were reported in the area around the time the plane was due in Kake, Hengen said.
The Kake clinic did not immediately respond to a telephone message seeking information about the patient who was supposed to be picked up by the plane.