Five foreign tourists and a pilot from Juneau were killed Monday afternoon in the crash of a flightseeing plane about a dozen miles south of Haines, according to Alaska State Troopers.
The pilot was Chad Beer, 26, of Juneau, troopers said. Four of the passengers were German nationals and one was Canadian. The victims were part of a tour out of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.
The white, red and gold Cherokee Six tour plane owned by LAB Flying Service of Haines departed from Skagway at 2:02 p.m. It was on a one-hour tour over the east arm of Glacier Bay, due to return by 3:30.
Authorities began a search when the single-engine plane did not return by 5 p.m.
The U.S. Coast Guard pinpointed an emergency locator beacon at the 5,000-foot level of Davidson Glacier near the peak. The Coast Guard dispatched two helicopters from Sitka. One helicopter looked for the crash site, while the other picked up members of the Juneau Mountain Rescue Team at the National Guard hangar in Juneau, said Steve Lewis of the mountain rescue team.
The crash site was located near the crest of the glacier about 7:15 p.m.
Juneau Mountain Rescue dispatched five people, three who went to the site and two who were in a helicopter on stand-by.
The helicopter with the three aboard landed on the glacier near the crash site, and team members surveyed the scene on foot. Lewis described it as "a very steep snowy slope."
"The airplane appeared to hit the mountain and bounce back and slide down a little ways. The aircraft was beyond recognition; it did not look like an airplane any more. The fuselage was slightly burned," Lewis said.
Representatives of the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration may visit the site today, said FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer in Seattle. Clint Johnson of NTSB's Anchorage office arrived in Juneau this morning, but remained "on a weather hold" at 11 a.m., he said.
Johnson could not confirm radio reports that poor visibility contributed to the crash. "I haven't talked to any witnesses yet," he said.
LAB officials said they had no word on the names of the passengers. Next of kin have not been notified, troopers said.
Weather conditions at Haines Airport on Monday afternoon gave no indication of difficulties. At 2 p.m., observations showed an overcast ceiling at 7,000 feet with visibility of 10 miles. Wind was gusting to 18 mph. At 3 p.m., the overcast was at 6,000 feet. However, with a glacier "you have the possibility of localized cloud mass" and poor visibility, said senior forecaster Jim Truitt of the National Weather Service in Juneau.
LAB has had other accidents in the area. In July 1995, a LAB Cherokee Six crashed into a mountainside above Pyramid Harbor, a few miles north of Monday's crash site. Six people died. Investigators said that crash was caused by pilot error.
Two people died in the crash of a LAB Cherokee Six on Admiralty Island flying from Juneau to Kake in October 1997.
A LAB Piper PA-32 crashed into Davidson Glacier in September 1996, injuring two people seriously, one of them a German tourist. Four others on the aircraft suffered only minor injuries. That flight was headed from Haines to Gustavus.
LAB operates about three dozen planes across Southeast Alaska. The company's business office is in Haines. Flight operations are based in Juneau.
Ann Chandonnet can be reached at email@example.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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