Small plane with 3 rangers, 1 other person aboard missing in southwest Alaska

By Rachel Doro, AP
Sunday, August 22, 2010

Small plane with 4 on board missing in Alaska

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Airborne searchers were looking Sunday for a small plane carrying a pilot and three National Park Service workers, including two brothers, after it disappeared in southwest Alaska during bad weather.

Six airplanes and two helicopters searching for the Dehavilland Beaver were focusing on rugged coastal terrain between Swikshak Lagoon in Katmai National Park and the floatplane’s destination in King Salmon, about 285 miles southwest of Anchorage. There has been no emergency locator transmissions or radio communications from the aircraft, said park superintendent Ralph Moore, who was holding out hope that the floatplane landed in a cove to wait out the area’s abruptly changing weather.

“The fact that there’s been no radio transmissions from them is very disturbing to us,” he said.

The plane was reported missing after it did not arrive in King Salmon as expected Saturday, according to the Coast Guard, which sent a helicopter and an HC-130 plane to help with the search.

Park superintendent Ralph Moore said the plane left Swikshak Lagoon at 1:45 p.m. Saturday for a flight that takes about an hour. Two other park service employees at the site left in a Cessna 206 about 15 minutes later and arrived safely in King Salmon, but the plane flew 500 feet above the ground much of the way because of deteriorating weather conditions.

The park service identified the passengers Mason McLeod, 26, and the brothers — Neal Spradlin, 28, and Seth Spradlin, 20. No hometowns were released. The pilot wasn’t identified.

Officials said the search would continue until last light Sunday.

The workers were at the site to prepare for a planned reconstruction of an old ranger station, Moore said.

The missing men had been waiting there for 10 days to receive supplies and equipment by boat, but the effort was called off when suitable tides and weather did not materialize. The weather in the area tends to be quite variable, socked in with clouds, then clearing enough to fly through valleys or passes in mountainous terrain, then closing in again, Moore said.

Alaska has had multiple deadly plane crashes since early June, including an Aug. 9 crash that killed former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens and four others. Other recent crashes occurred at Denali National Park, Elmendorf Air Force Base, central Alaska and in a busy business district near downtown Anchorage.

Altogether, 17 people have been killed in Alaska plane crashes since June.

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