Two from flight are missing

Juneau pilot, flight instructor overdue from trip to Young Bay

Posted: Thursday, December 28, 2000

Two Juneau men are overdue on a round-trip flight to Young Bay.

Missing are pilot Steve Zeckser and flight instructor Edgar "Bear" Burch. Zeckser is the owner and operator of the single-engine aircraft and was being given his biannual flight review by Burch, a certified flight instructor.

Young Bay is on the northwest coast of Admiralty Island, 12 miles southwest of Juneau in the Coast Mountains. The bay is five miles wide.

After the men filed a flight plan, their flight took off from Juneau Airport about 12:35 p.m. Wednesday, said Juneau Flight Service Station supervisor Wendell Wassmann. It was due to return in about an hour and a half. At 2:57 p.m., when the flight was an hour late in returning, the station reported it overdue to the Coast Guard Command Center, which began a search with a helicopter and boat crew.

The Flight Service Station, a division of the Federal Aviation Administration, briefs pilots on the weather and receives pilots' flight plans.

The Coast Guard began searching at about 3:10 p.m. Wednesday on a path from Young Bay to Berners Bay. It continued looking until 8:30 p.m. without finding any sign of the aircraft.

Belinda Burch said her husband, 63, is a very experienced pilot. He moved to Juneau a year and a half ago and works for Juneau Flight School. "He's been flying since he was a little boy," she said.

The Coast Guard resumed its search for the missing aircraft at first light today using two Sitka-based helicopters, a 47-foot motor lifeboat and a 25-foot utility boat from Juneau, and the 110-foot cutter Anacapa based at Petersburg. The Southeast squad of the Civil Air Patrol also joined in the search.

"It's not great search conditions out there, but the ceiling is going up a little bit," said Lt. Cmdr. Ray Massey of the Coast Guard at about 11:30 this morning. "The Forest Service is going to get involved. They'll have a plane flying over North Admiralty Island," Massey said.

Massey said a regular Haines Airways flight noticed a sheen off Lena Point today and said the Coast Guard will take samples of it.

Weather between noon and 2 p.m. Wednesday was average for Southeast Alaska in December, said meteorologist Mike Richmond of the National Weather Service.

"We had low ceilings and low clouds and drizzle at the airport, and it looked like from our satellite pictures that the inner channels (all of Southeast and its waterways) had low-lying clouds and the ceiling might have been 1,000 feet here and there" on the flight path to and from Young Bay, Richmond said.

Flying in such conditions is "a judgment call," Richmond said. "If a person is instrument-rated and has instruments in his plane, he could deal with those conditions," he said.

The missing plane is a white and red Bellanca Scout, identification number 7100C.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneau

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