Air ambulance lands in water during takeoff from Alaska airport

Three people were rescued from the LifeMed plane after it made an emergency water landing on Thursday morning


Michelle Theriault Boots
Alaska Dispatch News, Anchorage

UNALASKA, Alaska — Three people aboard a LifeMed medevac plane were rescued Thursday morning after the plane went into in the water during takeoff from the Unalaska airport.

The Beechcraft King Air 200 turboprop went down at 8 a.m. in “pitch black” darkness at the tail end of a harsh Aleutian Islands windstorm, said John Lucking, chief of the Unalaska Police Department.

A LifeMed medevac flight made an emergency water landing in the Unalaska Bay Thursday morning, officials said. (Photo/Piergiuliano Chesi, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0)
A LifeMed medevac flight made an emergency water landing in the Unalaska Bay Thursday morning, officials said. (Photo/Piergiuliano Chesi, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0)

The weather was misty and overcast at the time, with wind gusts between 14 and 23 mph from the east, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Benjamin Bartos.

It’s not yet clear how long the plane was airborne. In a statement, LifeMed described the event as an emergency water landing.

“While taking off for a routine medical transport this morning, our aircraft experienced an unknown issue which forced an emergency water landing," LifeMed CEO Russ Edwards said in a statement. “Through skill, training and composure, our pilot and two crew members were able to safely evacuate from the aircraft with minimal injuries.”

The plane ended up “400 or 500 yards” offshore in the waters of Unalaska Bay, between the north edge of the airport runway and Hog Island.

A city-owned vessel made it to the downed aircraft within 24 minutes. The rescuers picked up all three passengers from a life raft and took them to shore, Lucking said.

The airplane sank, he said.

The pilot and two medical staff crew members were in good condition and were brought to Iliuliuk Family & Health Services Clinic for evaluation, LifeMed said in a statement.

“They were at the clinic in less than an hour (from the time of the crash), which is remarkable in a rural Alaska water rescue,” Police Chief Lucking said.

The plane was taking off to the north/northwest of the runway, apparently on a flight to pick up a patient in Adak, he said.

LifeMed said it is temporarily suspending its operations.

LifeMed formed in 2008 as the result of a merger between air ambulance companies Life Guard Alaska and AeroMed, according to their website. It is headquartered in Anchorage with bases in Fairbanks, Soldotna, Bethel, Palmer, Juneau and Dutch Harbor.

Clint Johnson of the National Transportation Safety Board said the agency had been notified of an accident but was standing by because the situation was still unfolding.

“We do know an airplane went off the runway. We don’t know how far. We do understand it is in the water,” Johnson said.

The incident comes less than three months after a PenAir commercial flight crash-landed in Unalaska, skidding off the runway into water and killing one passenger.

Two other medical flights have crashed in Southcentral Alaska within the last few months.

Two Medevac Alaska crew members and a Security Aviation pilot were killed in a Kenai Peninsula crash on Nov. 29. Two companies had earlier turned down the flight on the day of the crash because of weather concerns.

Less than a month later, a single-engine plane made an emergency landing on a frozen lake east of Koliganek on Christmas Eve. Medevac crew members were returning to Anchorage after transporting a patient to New Stuyahok when the pilot reported engine failure. No one was injured.

ADN’s Tess Williams contributed reporting.

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©2020 the Alaska Dispatch News (Anchorage, Alaska)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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