Missing plane located, passengers ‘alive and well’

ANCHORAGE (AP) — Officials say three people were found “alive and well” when a missing aircraft was located.

The airplane was reported missing Sunday on a flight from Anchorage to the Kenai Peninsula.

Anchorage television station KTVA reports that the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center confirmed that the plane was found Monday.

The station says the Coast Guard confirms three people were found with the plane and were “alive and well” and taken to an Anchorage hospital Monday evening.

Clint Johnson of the National Transportation Safety Board says that the airplane took off Sunday.

The report didn’t say where the plane was found or what had happened to it. No other information was immediately available.

The plane, a 1959 Cessna 180 B, took off from Lake Hood Floatplane Base in Anchorage on Sunday, headed for Soldotna. Three people — John White, Josh Smith and his daughter Danielle — were on board, according to the Facebook page of the Alaska Church of the Nazarene. However, it did not arrive on time, and family members reported it overdue.

The Alaska Rescue Coordination Center, a unit of the Alaska Air National Guard’s 176th Wing, conducted aerial search efforts with two helicopters in shifts, said Staff Sergeant Edward Eagerton. The Civil Air Patrol has also sent out planes, he said.

“Really, it’s kind of a big area,” he said. “They left out of Lake Hood and were headed to the Kenai Peninsula, and that kind of leaves a big space.”

One of the complicating factors is that the plane had an older emergency locator transmitter on board, transmitting at 121.5 megaHertz, called a 121.5 ELT. When a plane is in distress, it sends out alerts to other planes in the area. The older model does not communicate with a satellite or transmit GPS coordinates the way the newer ones do, though. Noreen Price with the National Transportation Safety Board in Anchorage said this makes it more difficult to track.

“They’re modifying their search areas based on radar data,” she said.

Immediately after the plane was reported missing to the Rescue Coordination Center — within the hour, Eagerton said — other planes reported having received transmissions in the area. However, the pings reach out to planes within a 500-mile radius, and the peninsula is a big place, he said.

“It’s a lot of search grid,” he said.

On the Kenai Peninsula, many pilots volunteered their time Monday to go out and search for the missing plane. Most of the effort shifted to the west side of Cook Inlet around middday Monday, but the weather by late afternoon was starting to force smaller planes to turn around because of freezing rain, said Matt Vermilion, a flight scheduler with North Air in Nikiski. Weather might prohibit the smaller planes from searching although the larger craft, like those from the Rescue Coordination Center, can carry on, he said.

“There’s just a lot of prayers going around,” he said. “…Pretty much anybody with a set of wings and the time … was out today.”

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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