Guard rescues injured pilot after crash near Gulkana

RESCUED: Pilot had spinal injuries; in 3 days, 5 planes down.

September 13, 2010 

A single-engine plane with four people aboard crashed in the Alphabet Hills 45 miles northwest of Gulkana Sunday, seriously injuring the pilot, authorities said.

The pilot appeared to have severe spinal injuries, according to the Alaska Air National Guard, which sent aircraft to rescue him and the three other men on board.

Alaska State Troopers identified the pilot as Robert Wesley Price, 30, of Anchorage. The other three, who received minor injuries, are Wayne Humbert, 30, of Anchorage; Brad Vassau, 23, of Anchorage; and Grant Smith, whose age and hometown were not given by the troopers.

Guard aircraft flew the four to Mat-Su Regional Hospital for treatment, troopers said.

The men were flying in a six-seat Cessna 185 to the Paxson area to go moose hunting but the plane crashed shortly after takeoff, troopers said.

National Transportation Safety Board investigator Larry Lewis said he had no information on the cause of the crash yet. The aircraft is being retrieved.

Lewis said the Gulkana crash was one of five small-plane crashes in Alaska Friday, Saturday and Sunday. No injuries were reported in the others.

"Hunting season brings with it a lot of accidents," Lewis said.

The others, all single-engine small planes, were in South Naknek, near Coldfoot, in Fairbanks and across Cook Inlet from Soldotna.

For the Gulkana crash, troopers said they first were notified by a personal GPS emergency locating beacon called SPOT and registered to Humbert. Alaska Wildlife Troopers were first on the scene.

Lewis said he has a personal GPS like that too and they are affordable and seem to work pretty well on small planes.

The National Guard, meanwhile, said an updated, improved emergency locator transmitter on the plane itself -- a 406-megahertz one -- helped pinpoint the location of the wreck.

That beacon is important to have in airplanes, said Lt. Col. Thomas Bolin, 210th Rescue Squadron commander and HH-60 Pave Hawk pilot, in a written release.

"The use of the beacon is what enabled us to have a very quick response," he said.

The Guard's 210th, 211th and 212th Rescue Squadrons all participated.

Find Rosemary Shinohara online at adn.com/contact/rshinohara or call her at 257-4340.

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