The community of Wrangell is mourning the loss of three residents that died in a plane crash Friday.
Pilot David Galla, 60, and passengers Greg Scheff, 61, and Thomas Siekawitch, 57, were on board the Cessna 206 when it crashed into southern Admiralty Island on Friday morning on its way from Wrangell to Angoon. One passenger, 21-year-old Morgan Enright of Ketchikan, survived and was at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center as of Saturday morning.
Wrangell City Manager Jeff Jabusch said Friday was a “terrible day” for the community of about 2,400.
“The community is tight-knit and when something like this happens, it affects everyone in town. We all know all of the people that were in the plane crash,” he said. “It’s certainly a tragic thing and I think everyone is feeling the pain right now.”
The three that died were all longtime residents of Wrangell, Jabusch said. Galla was a pilot and owner of Sunrise Aviation, which the downed Cessna was registered to, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Scheff and Siekawitch were land surveyors and worked in the Wrangell office of Ketchikan’s R & M Engineering.
“They’re ingrained in the community and involved in a lot of different things,” Jabusch said.
“My heart goes out to their families,” he added. “Everybody will help the families however we can and do the best we can.”
As of 10 a.m. Saturday, Enright was in critical condition at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, said nurse supervisor Carmen Robinson. She said Enright’s family was at the hospital.
Enright is an equipment operator with Ketchikan Ready-Mix & Quarry, said its manager, Hope Burnette, on Friday.
“She was flying up to Angoon to work on the ferry terminal project,” she said.
The State of Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities is building a passenger facility at Angoon’s ferry terminal and is contracting with Ketchikan Ready-Mix & Quarry on the project, said DOT spokesman Jeremy Woodrow.
Enright is the daughter of Ketchikan Ready-Mix & Quarry owner Loren Enright, who owns the concrete and contracting business with his two brothers. Her mother is Chere Klein, who worked as an aide to former State Rep. Peggy Wilson and later ran in a tight race against House District 36 Rep. Dan Ortiz in the 2014 election.
Enright was originally airlifted from the crash site to Kake, then medevaced to Bartlett Regional Hospital by a Guardian flight crew around 5:15 p.m. Friday. BRH spokesman Jim Strader described Enright’s medical condition at the time as “guarded” before she was transferred to Harborview.
Burnette said Enright was in Wrangell and left on the Sunrise Aviation flight Friday morning and was due to arrive in Angoon around 10 a.m.
The six-seat, single-engine, float-equipped Cessna 206 crashed at an elevation of 2,300 feet near Pybus Bay on Admiralty Island. Alaska Regional Chief for the National Transportation Safety Board Clint Johnson said the wreckage was in “steep, snow-covered terrain.”
The plane’s satellite beacon distress signal went off at 9:28 a.m. Friday. A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Air Station Sitka located the downed aircraft around 11:25 a.m., shortly after a helicopter from Temsco Helicopters located it first. Neither was able to get to it due to extreme wind, said Coast Guard rescue controller Nick Meyer out of Sector Juneau. The Coast Guard helicopter crew returned on scene at 2:20 p.m. with members of Sitka Mountain Rescue.
The bodies of Galla, Scheff, and Siekawitch were recovered Saturday afternoon, according to an Alaska State Troopers dispatch.
NTSB’s Johnson said two investigators were headed to the crash site Saturday morning along with state troopers and Juneau Mountain Rescue. Troopers and JMR were working on recovering the bodies, while NTSB investigators Shaun Williams and Josh Cawthra investigated the crash site.
Johnson said an investigator with Cessna Aircraft Company was also due to arrive in Juneau Saturday.
“The main goal (Saturday) is for the whole team together to be able to document the wreckage at the accident site,” Johnson said.
After that, Johnson said, the plan is to bring the wreckage back to Juneau and piece it back together.
“And that’s where a lot of the detailed documentation will take place,” he said. “We’re very much in the preliminary stages right now.”
A preliminary NTSB report is likely to come out this week or next, Johnson said. The entire investigation into the cause could take up to a year.
National Weather Service has a weather sensor at the Five Finger Lighthouse, about 25 miles east of the crash area. Meteorologist intern David Levin said surface weather around 9:30 a.m. Friday included a 3000-foot ceiling with light rain and a south wind about 10 MPH. He added that a wind shift with a front could have crossed over Admiralty Island around that time.
“Sometimes along fronts you get areas of turbulence because wind is rapidly shifting directions,” Levin said Friday afternoon.
According to its website, Sunrise Aviation is a small, locally owned and operated air charter business owned by Galla and Tyler Robinson, who are also pilots. They purchased the small charter business Pacific Wings in Petersburg in 2011, according to its website.
• Contact reporter Lisa Phu at firstname.lastname@example.org or 523-2246.