As a cold wind swept down Gastineau Channel on Friday night, hundreds of people braved the conditions to pay their respects to those who were on board a medevac plane that went missing en route to Kake earlier in the week.
The crowd gathered around the whale statue at Mayor Bill Overstreet Park as friends and family spoke about Patrick Coyle, Stacie Rae Morse and Margaret Langston Allen. Margaret’s father Gene looked out at a couple hundred Juneauites clutching electric candles and expressed his gratitude.
[Photos: Hundreds turn out for Guardian Flight vigil]
“Margaret was special to us, as apparently she was to you guys too, to see this crowd,” he said.
The vigil began at 6 p.m., and concluded with a moment of silence at 6:19 p.m. The timing was important, and carefully planned out. The Guardian Flight plane was supposed to land in Kake at 6:19 p.m. Tuesday. The flight, which was coming from Anchorage, never arrived. The U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies searched for the ensuing 63 hours before suspending the search at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
Photos of Coyle, 63, Morse, 30, and Allen, 43, leaned up against a dais as Alaska Police and Fire Chaplain Diane Peterson moderated the event. There were tears at many points, from those speaking and those listening. There was also laughter, though, as people shared funny anecdotes and thoughts about the trio.
Erin San Angelo, Morse’s close friend, pointed out that there was a fourth person aboard that flight — Morse’s unborn baby, Delta Rae.
“I’d never seen her so happy in her life,” San Angelo said of Morse. “All she wanted to be was a mother.”
San Angelo wore Morse’s jacket as she spoke, saying it felt good to be wrapped up in her friend’s coat. Her talk kept coming back around to Delta Rae, and about how excited Morse was for the future.
Many of the friends and family came from out of state to be in Juneau during the search and for the vigil. Some of them thanked Guardian Flight for supporting them through the week.
Coyle’s brother Billy said during the vigil that the hospitality has impressed him.
“Now we know why my brother Pat loved it up here so much,” Billy said. “The place is beautiful, and the people are even better.”
In the day leading up to the event, people in the aviation and nursing communities sent emails and texts and Facebook posts to make sure as many people could get there as possible.
Juneau resident Katie Kowalchuk was among them. She didn’t know any of the people aboard the plane, but her husband Sam Steensland is a pilot who met Coyle through work. Though she didn’t have a personal connection to any of them, she said it was important for the full community to come together.
“It’s a small community and I think it’s so important that everyone’s coming together, and it’s so healing,” Kowalchuk said.
For those in attendance, particularly Morse’s family and friends, they wanted that healing process to be reflective of those being remembered. San Angelo found a band called Delta Rae and played an acoustic song called “No Peace In Quiet,” which is about trying to move on after loss.
After that song, it was time to send Morse off in style. They played Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again,” which Morse’s father Tim said would get Morse fired up when she was younger. As the song began, so did a fireworks show just next to the whale statue.
The sky lit up, and attendees stopped in their tracks to watch. San Angelo was up front, her arms spread wide as she took in the show.
She and others cheered as the fireworks created an explosive backdrop for the large statue, finding a little joy together after a week filled with heartbreak.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.