Missing pilot didn't know plane was low on fuel

Search called off for four lost from Cessna that crashed near Gustavus on Sunday night

Posted: Wednesday, July 16, 2003

The pilot of a plane that crashed in Icy Strait near Gustavus last weekend didn't know he was out of fuel when the plane went down, his wife said Tuesday from Salt Lake City.

Gary Ostler, 49, remains missing along with his son, Christopher Ostler, also of Salt Lake City, and his two brothers-in-law, Gordon Moses, 24, and Adam Moses, 18, of Lindon, Utah.

The family in Utah fears the worst for the Moses brothers, Christa Ostler, their older sister and the pilot's wife, said Tuesday. She said she holds out more hope for the other two missing men, although she is aware the Coast Guard suspended its search for all four Monday evening.

Crash survivors Khyl Shum-mway, 22, and Benjamin Gunn, 25, returned home to Utah on Tuesday after being treated at Bartlett Regional Hospital for minor injuries.

The six left Salt Lake City on Sunday morning in Ostler's Cessna 401 for an Alaska fishing trip. The plane went down at about 9:30 p.m. Sunday, and the search for survivors began immediately, according to Roger Wetherell, spokesman for the Coast Guard in Juneau. Eleven hours later, the crew of the fishing vessel Kelly Bay spotted Shummway and Gunn on Eagle Point on Chichagof Island, about 50 miles west of Juneau. The Coast Guard airlifted the two to Bartlett Regional Hospital.

The search was conducted Sunday night and into Monday evening by the Coast Guard, the Alaska State Troopers, members of SEADOGS - a group of dogs and their handlers specializing in land searches - the Alaska National Guard, the National Park Service and members of the Gustavus Fire Department.

The Federal Aviation Administration is conducting the investigation into the crash. Rich Hudgens, assistant office manager for the district, said the investigation could take up to six months.

Shummway embraced relatives as he arrived at Salt Lake City International Airport on Tuesday, according to The Associated Press. He talked with reporters about his swim to shore.

"Ben continued to call, 'are you there yet, Khyl? Are you there yet?' And I said 'not yet just keep swimming,"' Shummway said. "I think we saved each other's lives."

From the ground, it appeared the plane ran out of fuel, according to Wetherell.

Christa Ostler, relating what she learned from Shummway and Gunn, sons-in-law of the Ostlers, said it was a surprise when the engine quit.

"It was not a matter of pilot error," she said.

She said the instruments showed the plane had more than enough fuel to make it the final 12 to 15 miles to land when the engine quit. The plane was equipped with an auxiliary tank as well as the two standard tanks.

She said her husband was an experienced pilot and never would have let the plane run out of fuel. Ostler was licensed to fly in 1992, she said. He had about 1,800 hours piloting single- and twin-engine planes as well as more than 600 hours flying helicopters.

"Our survivors came back today," she said. She added that the family "has closure" on Gordon and Adam Moses, who were not seen getting out of the plane before it sank, although their fate may not be known until the plane is pulled up. She said she plans to come to the area with a salvage company to recover the plane.

"My brother Gordon was so excited to be on the trip," she said, explaining that he had never been so far from home.

Christa Ostler has more hope for her husband and stepson.

"Our hope comes from God," she said, pointing to "the miracle" that brought Shummway and Gunn back home.

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