A Juneau man with a long Alaska aviation career died Wednesday afternoon when his plane crashed near Juneau Airport.
Charles Thomas "Tom" Madsen Sr., 52, was the sole occupant of the twin-engine 1959 Beechcraft 18, which crashed in the Mendenhall Wetlands at about 4:20 p.m. Wednesday.
"After takeoff, the aircraft experienced some kind of problem and crashed southeast of the runway in the mudflats," said Terry Gordon, manager of the Federal Aviation Administration's Flight Standards district office.
Gordon said the plane came to rest about 400 yards from the center of the runway. He said it was too early to further specify the cause of the crash, and that a National Transportation Safety Board investigator was arriving in Juneau today.
Madsen was departing for a trip up the Taku River at the time of the crash, Gordon said. An employee of Ward Air said Madsen flew for the company, but Wednesday's trip was personal business.
The NTSB gave permission last night for the plane to be moved to a hangar because of the approaching high tide, but a lack of equipment and nightfall prevented the move. The wreckage was still on the wetlands this morning.
Madsen's body has been sent to Anchorage for an autopsy.
Before moving to Juneau three years ago, Madsen owned Aleutian Air, Ltd. in Unalaska. He spent 18 years flying in the Aleutian Islands and was well-known throughout the region.
Connie Stanton of Unalaska, who said she was a close friend of the Madsen family, said this morning that news of the crash reached the town last night.
"Everybody's real upset today," she said. "He was a wonderful pilot who saved so many lives, risking his own life for many years."
A January 1999 news article from the Dutch Harbor Fisherman detailed several life-saving flights made by Madsen. In 1986, the article recounted, he flew through heavy snow, sleet and hurricane-force winds to successfully medevac a 14-month-old girl who had ingested a potentially lethal dose of iron pills.
Years later Jim Bird of the Iliuliuk Clinic in Unalaska, who accompanied the child on that flight, wrote a letter to the newspaper, crediting Madsen with saving not only the child's life, but his as well.
"I am still alive and able to talk about how Tom finally pulled that plane out of the storm using his skills and experience," Bird wrote. "Tom was the best I have ever flown with."
At the time of the 1999 article, Madsen had been flying for 35 years and had accumulated nearly 26,000 flight hours.
Madsen moved to Juneau three years ago with his wife, Stephanie, who is vice president of the Pacific Seafood Processors Association. She was appointed to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council by Gov. Tony Knowles last year.
Madsen is survived by his wife and two children.
Melanie Plenda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Andrew Krueger can be reached at email@example.com.
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