Guardian Flight recovers crashed plane’s voice recorder

Air ambulance company Guardian Flight said it has recovered the cockpit voice recorder for its plane that crashed in Southeast Alaska’s Frederick Sound in late January.

Guardian Flight has been using side-scan sonar and a remotely-operated vehicle to search the sea floor in the area where the plane crashed. The Beechcraft King Air 200 was en route from Anchorage to Kake to pick up a patient Jan. 29.

Guardian Flight said their onsite team has located “85-90% of the aircraft,” including landing gear, the fuselage and an engine from the plane.

Clint Johnson, chief for the Alaska regional office of the National Transportation Safety Board, said the NTSB has taken custody of the cockpit voice recorder, commonly referred to as a black box, and confirmed it is from the crashed aircraft.

“We’re working right now to get a plan formulated to be able to get that cockpit voice recorder back to our Washington, D.C., vehicle recorder lab, where they hopefully can download that information and hopefully give us a little bit more insight of the sequence of events of this tragic accident,” Johnson said Tuesday.

Johnson said it’s still not known whether the recorder was working or captured information from the crash.

“It could possibly record conversations with either air traffic control or intercom systems within the airplane,” he explained. “We won’t really know exactly what the quality (is), or if there is in fact a recording that would give us a better idea of the sequence of events, until we have a chance to audition that cockpit voice recorder. Hopefully that will take place probably within a day after reaching our Washington, D.C., vehicle recorder lab, and we’re anxiously awaiting that information.”

The NTSB has an investigator on board the recovery boat in Frederick Sound. Johnson said the NTSB hopes to know more about plans for recovering other parts of the plane within the next 24-to-48 hours.

In an email, Randy Lyman, Guardian Flight’s senior vice president of operations, calls the discovery a “positive development in the search” but also a “heartbreaking time” for the company and families of the lost crew.

Three people — a pilot, nurse and a paramedic — died in the crash. All three were Juneau residents. Guardian Flight says it continues to search for the crew members.

This story has been updated.

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