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4 killed, including baby, in western Alaska crash

Nathaniel Herz
Alaska State Troopers

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Update: 1:30 p.m. Saturday:

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The Alaska State Troopers have released additional information about the victims and survivors of Friday’s plane crash in St. Marys.

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The four passengers who died include three residents of Mountain Village: Rose Polty, 57, Richard Polty, 65, and Wyatt Coffee, five months old. The pilot of the airplane, Terry Hanson, 68, was also killed; troopers did not name his place of residence.

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The six surviving passengers are all from Mountain Village, according to the troopers.

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They include Melanie Coffee, 25, who troopers said also resides in Pilot Station, as well as Kylan Johnson, 14, Pauline Johnson, 37, Garrett Moses, 30, Tanya Lawrence, 35, and Shannon Lawrence, whose age the troopers did not release.

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Two investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were traveling to St. Marys on Saturday, but it was unclear when they would arrive, said Clint Johnson, chief of the agency's Alaska regional office.

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The investigators are flying to Bethel first, and bad weather may not allow them to reach St. Marys on Saturday, Johnson said.

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“I’m not sure it’s going to happen today, or not,” he said.

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Earlier story:

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Four people died in a plane crash late Friday near the western Alaska village of St. Marys, according to the president of the company operating the flight.

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Six people aboard the plane were injured, said Jim Hickerson, the president of Hageland Aviation.

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The pilot, Terry Hansen, died in the crash, along with passengers Wyatt Coffee, Rose Polty and Richard Polty, state troopers said in a news release.

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The survivors were identified as Melanie Coffee, Pauline Johnson, Kylan Johnson, Tonya Lawrence, Garrett Moses and Shannon Lawrence.

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Fred Lamont Jr., a village police officer and former health aide who responded to the crash, said all the injured passengers were “beaten up,” with broken bones and other injuries, but he expected all of them to survive.

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“I believe they’re all going to be okay,” he said. “There’s a couple that had internal injuries, but they’re stable.”

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Two of the injured passengers were evacuated to Bethel soon after the crash, and two more were later evacuated to Anchorage, Lamont said.

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The two remaining passengers were also due to be evacuated to Anchorage, he said.

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A troopers spokeswoman was unable provide ages, birth dates or hometowns for any of the passengers.

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The flight, number 1453, took off from Bethel about 5:40 p.m. with nine passengers and the pilot, Hickerson said. Hageland Aviation is owned by Era Alaska.

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Lamont said the plane was traveling to Mountain Village, about 25 miles west of St. Marys by road.

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A spokeswoman for Era Alaska, Kathy Roser, would not confirm that, saying only that the plane was bound for Mountain Village and St. Marys. Both villages are on the north shore of the Yukon River.

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Hageland Air was informed at 6:34 p.m. that the plane, a Cessna 208, had crashed about four miles from the St. Marys airport, Hickerson said.

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First responders in St. Marys learned of the crash when a passenger in the downed plane, Melanie Coffee, called from a mobile phone to the village’s on-call health aide, Lamont said.

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Coffee made the call while giving CPR to her infant son, Wyatt, who died, Lamont said. (That information, Lamont said, was relayed to him by the village’s on-call health aide, Emily Paukan, who declined to comment when reached by the Daily News early Saturday morning.)

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Forty to 50 local residents on foot and on snowmobiles began a search for the wreck, Lamont said.

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The survivors had generally described the location of the crash, Lamont said. But the plane couldn’t be found for more than an hour despite rescuers being in “constant communication” with the survivors, Lamont said. He added that heavy fog hindered the search.

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Coffee eventually left the plane and walked three-quarters of a mile to the local landfill, where she found the search party, then showed the way back to the plane, Lamont said.

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“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “She’s the hero in this.”

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According to the passengers, the plane crashed without warning, Lamont said.

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“They were just flying over, and next thing they know, they were just falling straight out of the sky,” he said. “The plane just dropped.”

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The aircraft came to rest in brush on the top of a hill, Lamont said. It appeared to have “hit its nose pretty hard — it didn’t look like a glide,” he said.

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All the passengers killed in the crash were dead when first responders arrived at the scene, Lamont said.

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The injured passengers were evacuated in a pair of St. Marys ambulances, Lamont said, and driven straight to the local clinic.

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Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were expected to head to the crash scene at first light Saturday, said Clint Johnson, chief of the NTSB's Alaska regional office.

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A pair of troopers participated in the search effort, Lamont said. Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said the U.S. Coast Guard, LifeMed Alaska and the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center also joined in the rescue.

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An employee who answered the phone at LifeMed Alaska early Saturday morning referred calls to a central office, where no one answered.

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Hansen, the pilot, was a Navy veteran who served four tours of duty in Vietnam, according to a biography he posted online for his high school class.

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After his service, he returned to Iowa to attend school, worked as an accountant until 1977, and then moved to Montana, where he owned and operated a whitewater rafting company.

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He learned to fly while working for a hospital in Whitefish, Mont. He was employed as a charter pilot in Montana until he decided, in 1995, to move to western Alaska, where he continued to fly commercially. 

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“Terry was definitely loved on all levels. Personally and professionally,” said Reg Peratrovich of Anchorage, a family friend and fellow combat veteran and pilot.

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At midnight Friday, the temperature at St. Marys was about 10 degrees, with winds blowing about 8 miles an hour.

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Reach Nathaniel Herz at nherz@adn.com or 257-4311.

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This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

 

 


By NATHANIEL HERZ
nherz@adn.com