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Van rollover in Atka kills 3 fish plant workers, injures 6

Three men from Anchorage died after a van carrying employees from a fish processing plant crashed Tuesday in the tiny Aleutian village of Atka. Six survivors of the crash were flown overnight to Anchorage, where they arrived Wednesday for medical treatment, according to Alaska State Troopers.

Troopers said Wednesday that they did not know the extent of the injuries suffered by the survivors. They identified the three men killed as 43-year-old Ray McCullough Jr., 51-year-old Mike Tunohun and 57-year-old Paul Nicholas Nesbit.

Those nine people, plus one other person who was not taken to Anchorage, were traveling in the van Tuesday. They were employees at Atka Pride Seafoods and were traveling from the plant to a bunkhouse for dinner when the crash happened, according to a statement Tuesday from the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association. Atka Pride Seafoods is a subsidiary of the association.

Local health officials said late Tuesday that the crash happened around 5 p.m. and they were treating nine patients from the single-vehicle rollover.

A patient is taken out of an ambulance at the Adak clinic after a vehicle rollover in Atka on Tuesday. (Scott Langley / ADN reader submission)

About 64 people live in Atka, according to the latest U.S. Census estimates. The six survivors were first flown to Adak, a larger Aleutian town, Tuesday night and then transferred to a Coast Guard plane, which flew them over 1,000 miles to Anchorage.

Coast Guard spokeswoman Petty Officer 3rd Class Meredith Manning said the Coast Guard plane arrived at Stevens International Airport around 5:45 a.m. Wednesday. The survivors were not identified by Wednesday evening.

Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said bad weather had hampered troopers' efforts Wednesday to fly to Atka and investigate the crash. By 4 p.m. they had still not reached the village.

Ellen Krsnak of the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association said the Atka Pride Seafoods plant is typically run by a staff of about 15 people, including a mix of locals and other workers from around the state.

"It's Alaskans, primarily," she said.

The village of Atka on Atka Island in 2004 (Alaska Volcano Observatory)

In a statement Tuesday, Larry Cotter, the community development association's chief executive officer, said he was "devastated" by the news of the crash and the association would do everything it could for the employees and their families.

Atka city administrator Julie Dirks said Wednesday morning that the crash happened on Atxax Road, one of Atka's main thoroughfares, just south of the Atka airport. The van was moving north along the shore of Nazan Bay to the bunkhouse, which is between the plant and the airport.

Dirks said Atxax Road has a gravel surface and receives regular maintenance to repair potholes. She said at least one witness saw the crash, which happened on "a flat area" of the road.

"It's not really a hazardous road — no place (drivers) can go off or anything like that," Dirks said. "It was dry, no raining; it was a little windy, but not so much it would push the van over."

Luis Ingram, an Anchorage-based meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said an automated sensor station on Atka reported winds gusting between 25 and 36 mph at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, the approximate time locals said the crash happened. Sustained wind speeds for the afternoon were between 15 and 30 mph.

"It looks like generally the winds were gusting from the southwest," Ingram said. "There was no precipitation occurring at the time."

According to the Aleutians Pribilof Islands Association's website, Atka Pride Seafoods operates seasonally to serve a 45-boat local fleet. The website described Atka's economy as largely seasonal, with government and education jobs providing the only year-round work. Atka Pride Seafoods, it said, processes halibut and black cod.

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