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Pilot dies in plane crash

Posted: August 2, 2012 - 8:47pm  |  Updated: August 2, 2012 - 11:10pm

The Coast Guard and Juneau Mountain Rescue have located the wreckage of a missing small plane near Juneau Thursday.

The pilot, who has yet to be identified, died in the crash.

“It is extremely unfortunate that we were unable to rescue the pilot and our deepest condolences go out to his family,” said Lt. Ryan Erickson, Sector Juneau incident management division chief. “We thank all the personnel who have taken part in the search.”

Members of Juneau Mountain Rescue (JMR) were called in to help the U.S. Coast Guard search for the missing plane today near Point Howard, west of Juneau.

Ericksonsaid in a phone interview that a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter departed with JMR members onboard around 2:40 p.m.

A private Coastal Helicopters crew from Juneau located the wreckage at about 3 p.m. near Point Howard in the Tongass National Forest 23 miles west of Juneau. The Coast Guard rescue helicopter delivered a four-man Juneau Mountain Rescue team to the ground approximately one half mile from the crash site. Upon arrival to the crash site at about 4:24 p.m. they located the pilot of the plane, deceased.

Helicopters already searching in the area are unable to fly above 300 feet due to low visibility, Erickson said.

“We did have some helicopters fly up in the area that said the weather was really snotty,” Erickson said. “The cloud level was really low around 300 feet in some of the areas, and that’s why we offered to get the ground rescue out there as well.”

Civil Air Patrol aircraft and a helicopter from Coastal Helicopters in Juneau are also assisted in the search.

The Coast Guard said in an earlier release that a white and teal Piper Cherokee from Air Excursions LLC was overdue on a flight from Juneau to Gustavus at about 9:17 a.m.

The aircraft and the pilot, who was the only person reported on board, were due in Gustavus at 8:55 a.m. and were last heard from at 8:47 a.m., near Point Howard.

“Our last communication with them was definitely over land,” Erickson said, adding that air traffic controllers with the Federal Aviation Administration’s Flight Service Station did a routine check-in before they lost signal and the radar picture.

Erickson said he did not know if the pilot at that point reported anything out of the ordinary.

Air Excursions could not be immediately reached for comment.

Air Excursions is a company that offers flight-seeing tours of Southeast Alaska and offers scheduled service from Juneau to Gustavus, Hoonah, Haines, Skagway and Kake, according to its website.

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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