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Small plane with 4 on board missing southwest of Anchorage

Posted: Monday, August 23, 2010

ANCHORAGE - Searchers were looking Sunday for a small plane carrying four people, including three park rangers, that disappeared in southwest Alaska during bad weather.

The aerial search for the Dehavilland Beaver was 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, which was carrying the pilot and park rangers, 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 rangers 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 names of the four on board were not immediately released. Both planes are owned by the Branch River Air Service in King Salmon, according to the Park Service. A man who answered a telephone at the business declined to comment or give his name, referring questions to park officials.

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

The missing rangers 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.

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



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