Update: Searchers locate wreckage of missing plane, pilot dead

By August 2, 2012Search & Rescue

Juneau Mountain Rescue personnel and an Air Station Sitka MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew prepare to depart Juneau Thursday en route to the crash site of a downed small plane reported overdue on a flight from Juneau to Gustavus. (Photo Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard/Scott Giard)

A search and rescue effort to find a missing plane between Juneau and Gustavus Thursday is now a recovery mission.

A crew from Juneau-based Coastal Helicopters spotted wreckage from the Air Excursions Piper Cherokee at about 3 o’ clock Thursday afternoon. A Juneau Mountain Rescue team later found the pilot’s body at the crash site, near Point Howard 23 miles west of Juneau. He was the only one on board.

Coast Guard Lieutenant Ryan Erickson says an MH-60 Jayhawk from Air Station Sitka dropped the JMR team as close as it could get to the wreckage.

“We ended up having to drop them about a half mile away or so, couldn’t get them any closer just because of the terrain, it was so steep,” Erickson says. “And once they got on scene they were able to verify it was the plane that was missing.”

Erickson would not release any information about the pilot, though he says family has been notified.

A woman who answered the phone at Air Excursions’ Juneau office declined to comment. The company provides flight seeing and scheduled service in several northern Southeast communities.

The Coast Guard has offered to assist Alaska State Troopers with recovery on Friday.

The plane was reported missing about 9:15 Thursday morning. It had been en route from Juneau to Gustavus, and was due to arrive at 8:55 a.m. The pilot last made contact with flight service around 8:47.

The Coastal helicopter and Jayhawk conducted the initial aerial search, joined later by Civil Air Patrol. Troopers coordinated with Juneau Mountain Rescue on the ground search.

Erickson says low clouds and rain hampered their efforts throughout the day.

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