Two rescued after plane crash near Talkeetna

Lisa Demer

Two hunters from Washington state whose small plane crashed east of Talkeetna on Sunday night were rescued Monday by the Alaska Air National Guard, Alaska State Troopers reported. Neither man was hurt.

The pilot had turned up the wrong valley and was trying to get out of a tight canyon when he crashed, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The pilot of the crashed Piper PA-12 was William Gough, 67, and his passenger was Alan Thompson, 65, troopers said. An investigation found that they were headed to a hunting camp up the Talkeetna River Sunday evening when the plane crashed in steep terrain and poor weather, troopers said.

An F-22 Raptor pilot on a training mission out of Eielson Air Force Base heard a mayday call around 1:30 p.m. Monday on an aircraft frequency, but couldn't raise the caller.

"All military aircraft were accounted for, no civilian planes were overdue and no beacons had been reported. It was worth investigating, but we couldn't correlate any other signs of distress in the state of Alaska," Senior Master Sgt. Robert Carte, superintendent of the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, said in a statement.

About 2:45 p.m., an Alaska Airlines jet passing overhead picked up a distress call from someone in the area of the Talkeetna River and Iron Creek, troopers said Tuesday. The crew notified the Federal Aviation Administration air traffic control center. Talkeetna Air Service was asked to help look.

With the general location known, the Alaska Air National Guard launched an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter, the rescue center said. But the helicopter crew had trouble finding the downed plane.

About the same time, an active duty C-130 from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson picked up an emergency signal from the plane and searched for the beacon, turning the mission over to the Air Guard once the helicopter arrived, said Sgt. Edward Eagerton of the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

At 5:40 p.m., an Air National Guard HC-130 returning from a training mission was rerouted to help the effort.

By 6 p.m., they had found the crashed plane and the two men, the rescue center said. The helicopter picked up the men and dropped them off in Talkeetna about 6:20 p.m.

The men were prepared for rough weather but the mayday didn't get picked up until about 3:30 p.m. Monday, a full day after the crash.

The plane used older equipment that transmits on a frequency that can only be picked up by an aircraft flying overhead. Newer beacons transmit information to satellites that are monitored by the U.S. Mission Control Center.

In addition, the pilot told rescuers he had only switched on his beacon intermittently, which is not recommended, Carte said. That practice can delay rescuers, he said.

The damage to the plane was substantial. The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration are investigating.

NTSB investigator Chris Shaver said in an interview the pilot turned into the Iron Creek drainage off the Talkeetna River, realized his mistake and was trying to get out when he crashed. Peaks around Iron Creek are 5,000 to 6,500 feet.

"It looks like this one was a little too shallow for him," Shaver said.

FAA records show the Piper is registered to Michael Baker of Amboy, Wash.






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