Officials call off search for missing helicopter

Posted: Tuesday, December 11, 2007

ANCHORAGE - The search was called off Monday for a medical transport helicopter that disappeared a week ago somewhere near Prince William Sound with four people on board.

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The Rescue Coordination Center and the Alaska State Troopers made the decision to suspend the search for the LifeGuard Alaska helicopter. Bad weather Monday prevented rescuers from searching for the helicopter and crew.

The helicopter was on its way from Cordova to Anchorage on Dec. 3 when it went missing.

The aircraft was providing ambulance service for Providence Alaska Medical Center when it is believed it went down in blowing snow.

A search helicopter on Saturday found the body of John Stumpff, 47, a flight nurse, on the north shore of Passage Canal, about 2.5 miles across the fjord from Whittier.

The same crew spotted a helicopter door washed ashore about a mile east of where Stumpff's body was found.

On Sunday morning, searchers found medical equipment in the same general location.

Stumpff was one of three crew members, along with pilot Lance Brabham, 42, and paramedic Cameron Carter, 25, aboard the helicopter. Also on board was a patient, Gaye McDowell, 60, of Cordova.

The trip from Cordova to Anchorage is about 150 miles by air and usually takes about 90 minutes. Providence Alaska Medical Center, which leases the helicopter and operates the LifeGuard Alaska air ambulance service, reported the aircraft overdue after the crew failed to report position updates.

The helicopter's last transmission came at about 5 p.m. Dec. 3 from near Ester Island, 20 miles from Whittier. Its usual flight path would have led the helicopter down Passage Canal, past Whittier and then over Portage Pass to Anchorage.

The missing helicopter was one of two leased from Evergreen Helicopters of Alaska Inc., which provides the pilots and maintenance. Flight crew members lived in Kenai Peninsula communities.

After the decision was made to suspend the search, Evergreen issued a statement extending its sympathies to the families of the four people on board.

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