6:16 p.m. update:
The Coast Guard announced Thursday that it’s suspending its search for the plane, according to a Coast Guard news release. The search was suspended at 5:30 p.m. after searchers looked for 63 hours over an area of 240 square nautical miles, according to the release.
“Suspending a search for any reason is one of the most difficult decisions we have to make,” said Capt. Stephen White, Sector Juneau commander, in the release. “This was an extensive search effort in some very challenging conditions. We are thankful for the assistance from the search and rescue teams, Alaska State Troopers, Army Air National Guard and good Samaritans.”
Those assisting in the search were:
• Army Air National Guard
• Kake Search and Rescue
• Petersburg Search and Rescue
• Wrangell Search and Rescue
• Alaska State Troopers
• Alaska Marine Highways Ferries
• Good Samaritans
• Anchorage Air Route Traffic Control Center
The Coast Guard released this photo of the debris that was found.
The Coast Guard provides more details on the search during a press conference.
Debris, one piece which appears to be an aircraft wing, has been located in the water approximately 22 miles west of Kake, near the south tip of Admiralty Island in Chatham Strait. On Thursday, six to seven pieces of total debris had been found.
The wing was located just northwest of the last known location of the aircraft, said U.S. Coast Guard Commander Michael Kahle at a press conference on Thursday afternoon.
“As of right now, we have searched cumulative of about 940 miles, approximate distance of Juneau to Seattle, of course concentrated in the area of the last known position of the aircraft,” said Kahle.
Search efforts are focused on looking for people right now on the surface of the water. Kahle said the ocean depth at where the plane went down is significant — from 1,000 to 3,000 feet deep.
“The Coast Guard is focused on saving lives; we’re looking for people right now,” Kahle said.
Weather conditions for the search Thursday afternoon were six to seven foot seas and 30- to 40-knot winds. The area where the plane went down is a convergence of two significant waterways. Kahle said the wind is expected to pick up to at least 70-knots by Thursday night.
The National Transportation Safety Board will take over the investigation after it ceases to be a search and rescue by the Coast Guard, Kahle said.
He said that Southeast is a small community, and likely many friends and family know the three missing passengers.
“This incident significantly impacts that community, we’re all very close here,” he said. “We focus all of our energy on every search we do, but this one was particularly personal for us.”
“While search and rescue efforts are continuing in an attempt to find survivors, we are resigned to accept that the aircraft was ours,” said Randy Lyman, senior vice president of operations for Guardian Flight.
The Coast Guard will hold a press conference at 2 p.m. with more details. Watch it here.
Guardian Flight released the names of the three people aboard the medical airplane that went missing on Tuesday.
Pilot Patrick Coyle, 63, Flight Nurse Stacie Rae Morse, 30, and Flight Paramedic Margaret Langston Allen, 43, all based in Juneau, were listed as missing, according to a press release from Guardian Flight.
Debris from a plane has been located in the water approximately 22 miles west of Kake, near the south tip of Admiralty Island in Chatham Strait. The Wrangell Search and Rescue team’s float plane crew initially located the first piece, which appears to be a part of an aircraft wing, said U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Charly Hengen. However, the Coast Guard cannot confirm the debris is from the medical airplane that went missing while en route to pick up a patient in Kake, said Hengen. The Coast Guard defers all official confirmations regarding the incident to the National Transportation Safety Board, which is responsible for investigating and determining the probable cause of every civil aviation accident in the country.
“We have received reports of debris in the water and are concentrating search efforts near that area,” said Captain Stephen White, Coast Guard Sector Juneau commander in a press release. “Through our coordinated efforts with all involved we continue to actively search, we are thankful for the assistance rendered.”
Clint Johnson, chief of the National Transportation Safety Board in Alaska, said in a Thursday morning interview with the Empire that the board does not have the debris in its possession yet, but hopes they will be able to give official confirmation on whether or not it’s from the overdue flight by Thursday afternoon after their team has a chance to analyze pictures.
The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Anacapa, Coast Guard Cutter Bailey Barco and an Air Station Sitka MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew continued the search overnight, along with a Juneau-based Alaska Army National Guard UH-60 rescue helicopter, Hengen said.
Others helping with the search are Petersburg Search and Rescue, Kake Search and Rescue. The Coast Guard said Alaska state ferries also joined in the search. These assisting agencies spent the night in Kake and plan to return to the search Thursday morning, Hengen said.
Federal accident investigators have reviewed the radar flight information.
Johnson said Wednesday no clues have been immediately found in the electronic search of archived data showing the flight pattern of the missing King Air 200 plane operated by Guardian Flight.
“The electronic locating transmitter (black box) on the aircraft is not broadcasting,” Randy Lyman, senior vice president of operations for Guardian Flight, said in an interview with the Empire Wednesday.
The search for the plane is still ongoing. The plane had taken off from Anchorage on Tuesday and was expected to land in Kake at 6:19 p.m., but never arrived.
“We don’t know where the aircraft is yet,” said Hengen in a Wednesday interview with Empire. “We don’t know what happened yet, so we are still focused on finding the aircraft.”
Kake city administrator Rudy Bean said residents in a dozen boats searched Tuesday night for the plane, and some went back out to sea Wednesday.
“With the assistance of our state and local partners and good Samaritan vessels, we will continue to search for the missing aircraft and individuals,” said White in an email. “We have several Coast Guard assets diligently searching along with the invaluable assistance of the other rescue and volunteers, and we greatly appreciate their help.”
Guardian Flight issued a stand down for their entire fleet until more information becomes available, said Lyman in a statement on Twitter and Facebook.
Lyman said in an email that the grounding of the aircraft gives company employees a chance to reflect on the three crew members and pray for them. The company initially grounded all aircraft across the U.S. but has gradually re-started operations with aircraft based outside of Alaska, he said.
Light rain, 7 mph winds and 10-mile visibility were reported in the area around the time the plane was due in Kake. Weather in the area on Wednesday was reported as rain/snow mix with overcast skies, 7 mph winds and an air temperature of 39 degrees. The water temperature on Wednesday was 42 degrees with 1-3 foot swells.
The Coast Guard Cutter Anacapa is homeported in Petersburg, and the Cutter Bailey Barco is homeported in Ketchikan.
The Kake clinic did not immediately respond to a telephone message seeking information about the patient who was supposed to be picked up by the plane.
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.