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Sitka lodge owner, passenger killed in plane crash

  • Author: Zaz Hollander
  • Updated: June 12, 2018
  • Published June 11, 2018

A Sitka lodge owner and pilot died with his passenger in a plane crash Saturday during a short sightseeing flight, authorities say.

The plane left a Sitka seaplane base Saturday night for what was supposed to be a 20-minute tour of Katlian Bay and Olga Strait north of the city, the Coast Guard said.

The plane left Sitka on Saturday around 7:15 p.m., according to officials. Around 1 a.m. Sunday morning, troopers in Juneau got a call about the overdue flight.

The plane, a Piper PA-18 Super Cub on floats, was found partially submerged late Sunday in Katlian River where it meets the bay, according to a Coast Guard public information officer.

Pilot Stonie "Mac" Huffman, 45, from Sitka, and passenger James Ronge, 66, of California, were both found dead, Alaska State Troopers said.

Huffman's body was recovered from the wreckage, but Ronge was apparently ejected, authorities said.

His body was found about 500 yards downstream of the aircraft, the Coast Guard said. He wasn't found until Monday.

Two National Transportation Safety Board investigators traveled to the crash site with troopers early Tuesday morning, according to the agency's Alaska chief, Clint Johnson.

Johnson said the plane was found nose-down in the river.

Investigators plan to conduct on-scene investigations and then work with family to remove the plane from the river, so that investigators could take a closer look at the wreckage, he said.

The plane is associated with a lodge in the area, Johnson said.

Huffman owned Frontier Charters and Lodge for about the last 15 years, a relative said.

He also escaped a near-tragedy in 2012 and instead became the subject of a celebrated rescue when he and another crew member survived for more than a day after their fishing boat sank.

Big waves flipped their 28-foot aluminum boat in waters near Sitka and they got dumped in the water about two miles off Cape Edgecumbe, according to reports at the time.

Huffman managed to get into a survival suit that emerged from the wreckage and floated for a night before washing ashore on a beach about 25 miles northwest of Sitka.

The 19-year-old with him spent a day and night adrift in a 4-by-4 plastic fish bin.