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Pilot, passengers named in crash of small plane in Lake Clark

  • Author: Chris Klint
  • Updated: December 2, 2017
  • Published December 9, 2016

The Blom family at Tanalian Falls near Port Alsworth. (Courtesy Nate Davis)

Authorities released the names of four Port Alsworth residents missing on a flight to Anchorage since Wednesday, when their small plane is believed to have crashed into Lake Clark in Southwest Alaska.

National Park Service spokesman John Quinley identified those missing as pilot Kyle Longerbeam, 25; and Scott Blom, 45, and his children Zach Blom, 13, and Kaitlyn Blom, 14.

In the afternoon, the National Park Service said searchers had found the co-pilot seat and all three wheels of plane floating in the upper section of Lake Clark. The Park Service said the plane was a single-engine Piper PA-28.

Some of the plane occupants' personal items were found floating on the lake Thursday.

Quinley said about a dozen people were continuing an air and water search for the plane Friday, including a Park Service plane crew and several local pilots backed up by two, two-person boats. Air National Guard planes involved in the initial search pulled out Thursday after the discovery of the debris.

On Friday morning, weather conditions included "fog, light snow and temperatures of about 11 degrees," Quinley said.

Blom family friend Jackie Wilder said that the Bloms, closely associated with the evangelical organization Cru, once known as Campus Crusade for Christ, arrived in Port Alsworth about seven years ago. The family of six — Scott and Julie, along with their children Josh, Sam, Kaitlyn and Zach — operated Alaskan Leadership Adventures Lodge across Lake Clark from Port Alsworth, according to a ministry website.

"They work with cadets all over the U.S.: they train cadets and they work hard, and they train them how to survive in the wilderness," Wilder said.

The Bloms also helped out at Port Alsworth's public K-12 school, the Tanalian School, Wilder said, and were outgoing members of the tight-knit community of about 200 people about 165 miles southwest of Anchorage. In their spare time, the family indulged their love for the outdoors.

"They were out and about all the time; they were very kind, hard-working, thoughtful, smart," Wilder said. "They loved hiking, boating, flying, hunting, trapping, fishing — they just loved everything that Alaska has to offer."

Nate Davis, principal of the Tanalian school, said the family was flying to Anchorage to watch volleyball. One son traveled with the team, and mother Julie flew to Anchorage on a commercial flight.

Billy Strickland, executive director of the Alaska School Activities Association, said that the Tanalian Lynx were one of 12 teams with boy and girl members playing in a three-day tournament that began Thursday. The Lynx were eliminated along with three other teams in initial play Thursday, and didn't have any games scheduled Friday.

"We set up consolation games Saturday morning — they play again Saturday," Strickland said.

An extensive air search had been launched Wednesday afternoon for the plane, which took off from Port Alsworth at 10:30 a.m. for a 90-minute flight to Merrill Field in Anchorage. The plane's route would have taken it above the lake and then through Lake Clark Pass to the northeast.

Quinley said the personal debris was spotted at about 3 p.m. Thursday by Port Alsworth residents searching the lake in coordination with the air search.

Clint Johnson, the National Transportation Safety Board's Alaska chief, said Friday that investigator Shaun Williams has been assigned to the incident and was en route to Lake Clark. Johnson hadn't heard any indication that anyone from the aircraft may have survived the apparent crash.

"Obviously we would hope that would be the case, but as far as the search, that's going to be down to the Park Service," Johnson said. "We know the airplane is most likely in the water, so now we're in a recovery phase."

The NTSB is still collecting information on weather conditions in the area during Wednesday's flight.

"This area over the lake is known for low-lying fog, low visibility, but conditions at the time we don't know yet," Johnson said. "We do understand that right after they became missing, weather conditions were less than stellar."

Asked about whether aircraft have been recovered before from deep in Lake Clark, Johnson recalled a crash in 2005 in which three girls died. According to the NTSB's final report on the crash, the girls' father lost depth perception in whiteout conditions and flew into the frozen lake. He and his wife were able to escape, but weren't able to free his daughters before the plane sank in roughly 800 feet of water.

Neither the victims nor the aircraft in that crash were ever recovered from the lake, Johnson said.

"They are still in the plane," Johnson said. "It was out in the middle — it was very deep."

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