Alaska News

Missionaries plucked from Bering Sea after crash

This story was originally published Aug. 15, 1993.

Seven people returning from a church mission in Russia spent about 30 minutes in the Bering Sea on Friday before being rescued after the plane they were in ran out of fuel. Alaska State Troopers responded to an emergency distress call from a twin- engine Navajo about 8 p.m. Friday. The plane, returning from Russia, had taken off from St. Lawrence Island and was headed toward Nome. It went down about 25 miles west of the town near Sledge Island.

State troopers in Nome said Saturday that they relied on local volunteers, who scrambled to come up with a helicopter and small plane, for the rescue. While the passengers and pilot clung to empty fuel drums, the helicopter hovered inches above as volunteers plucked them from the frigid waters. The helicopter flew each one to the nearby island while a small plane flew overhead to keep track of those left in the water.

“They were real lucky,” said state trooper Gary Jones, who helped coordinate the rescue effort from his Nome office. “Basically, that’s all they had was those cans. They were all exhausted and clinging to cans, and it doesn’t take long for that cold water to sap their strength.”

Jones said members of the Nome Army National Guard, who usually respond to such emergencies, were on their way back from a mission and were unable to respond.

“We are just really grateful that it turned out way it did,” he said. “It was not an easy rescue.”

All seven were treated for hypothermia at Norton Sound Hospital in Nome, and by Saturday all had been released.

Among those from Alaska rescued were Pamela M. Swedberg , 30, of Soldotna and the pilot, David G. Cochran, 70, of Kenai. The others were from out of state.