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3 missing, 1 rescued after helicopter crash in Southeast Alaska

  • Author: Alex DeMarban
  • Updated: September 30, 2018
  • Published September 29, 2018

The U.S. Coast Guard rescued a teenage boy who survived a helicopter crash Friday near a bay in Southeast Alaska, but continued searching for three others throughout the day Saturday, including the boy's father and brother.

Aiden Pepperd, 14, was flown to Sitka on Friday by a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew, and transported to a hospital where he is in an intensive care unit, officials said.

Missing are Anchorage business owner Josh Pepperd, 42, his son, Andrew, 11, and David King, 53, owner of Last Frontier Air Ventures in Palmer, providing helicopter flights.

The group was on a cross-country trip in a new helicopter that Pepperd, owner of Davis Constructors and Engineers, had recently acquired from Airbus Helicopters in Texas.

The crash occurred near Lituya Bay, about 120 miles northwest of Juneau, in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.

lituya bay helicopter crash

Wreckage was found in water about 100 yards off the coast, but pieces of the aircraft Saturday had drifted toward shore, including sections of the fuselage, engine, rotorhead and front and rear seats, the Coast Guard said.

"All these washed up on beach, but not any sign of passengers," said Nate Littlejohn, a Coast Guard public affairs specialist.

Jeff Brodsky, a family friend of the Pepperds, issued an "emergency prayer request" on Facebook.

"We are holding onto hope that a miracle will happen," said Brodsky, who said he has been in touch with family and friends gathered at the hospital where Aiden was taken for treatment.

EXTREME EMERGENCY PRAYER REQUEST! Josh Pepperd and his sons Aidan and Andrew were in a bad helicopter accident between...

Posted by Jeff Brodsky on Saturday, September 29, 2018

The search on Saturday involved multiple agencies, including a boat from the Coast Guard Cutter Bailey Barco scouting the shoreline, along with aircraft from the Alaska Air National Guard, National Park Service and Civil Air Patrol in Juneau. With help from Alaska State Troopers, teams with search dogs canvassed beaches for any sign of survivors, the park service said.

The cutter will continue searching overnight on Saturday, and a Coast Guard Jayhawk will resume the search at first light on Sunday, said Littlejohn.

On Friday about 6:30 p.m., the Coast Guard in Juneau received an overdue aircraft alert from the Juneau Flight Service Station. The private helicopter had been expected to reach Yakutat that day but had not arrived.

A Coast Guard Jayhawk helicopter crew launched from Air Station Sitka at 8:15 p.m. Friday, using a GPS locator signal provided the aircraft's last known position, the agency said.

The crew spotted the wreckage in the water, an official said. After landing on the beach about 3 miles east of Lituya Bay, a Coast Guard rescuer found the boy.

Brodsky said that after the crash Aiden's head was resting on a helicopter blade, which kept it out of the water, helping him survive. He said Aiden received internal injuries from the crash, including broken ribs.

"It was painful and he had to unbuckle himself, and after he did, he was able to reach shore," Brodsky said.

Tim DeSpain, a Troopers spokesman, said on Saturday evening it was not known whether any of the victims were still inside the wreckage.

The wind near the crash site Friday evening was blowing about 12 mph, with about 9 miles of visibility and 12,000-foot ceilings, said Littlejohn.

Littlejohn said he did not know how cold the water was, but said nearby seas were between 5 feet to 8 feet, with the air temperature at 48 degrees.

The Coast Guard said the pilot was reported to have many decades of flying experience including Alaska flight time in both fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft, the agency said. The agency did not name the pilot.

The helicopter was on a trip that began in Grand Prairie, Texas, bound for Wasilla.

Airbus Helicopters on Wednesday posted on Facebook that Pepperd and his sons had taken delivery of an Airbus H125 helicopter from the company's facility in Grand Prairie.

Clint Johnson, chief of the National Transportation Safety Board in Alaska, said the agency is sending investigators to the crash site.

The family had been tracking the helicopter on the journey, using a satellite-linked system, and first notified authorities the helicopter was missing.

NTSB is sending four people to the site, including a helicopter engineer from Washington, D.C., and investigators from Airbus and Safran, the engine manufacturer.

Johnson said the helicopter is an Airbus AS350 B3e, the previous name for the H125. 

In addition to sending the investigator, Airbus Helicopters said it's ready to provide further help in the NTSB investigation.

"Our thoughts are with the family and everyone affected by this tragic accident," said Erin Callender, the company's head of communications.

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