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Searchers find no sign of Wasilla-bound plane believed missing near Rainy Pass

After more than two days, rescuers have found no sign of the small plane that went missing near Rainy Pass in the Alaska Range while en route to Wasilla, a spokesman for the Alaska Air National Guard said Saturday afternoon.

Rescuers believe the pilot was the only one on board the missing Cessna 172, said Sgt. David Bedard, a public affairs specialist for the Guard’s 176th Wing, but the National Guard is not identifying that person.

No signals have been picked up from the plane’s emergency locator transmitter, he said.

The Cessna departed Farewell Airport, south of Nikolai and west of Denali National Park, after 5 p.m. Wednesday, aviation officials say.

Depending on the weather, flying to Wasilla from Farewell normally takes 60 to 90 minutes, said Clint Johnson, a spokesman for the Alaska region of the National Transportation Safety Board.

A “concerned party” reported the plane overdue around 11 p.m. Wednesday, according to Allen Kenitzer, a spokesman for the Alaska region of the Federal Aviation Administration. According to a Friday statement from a Civil Air Patrol spokesman, the pilot “was reported overdue by family members.”

Bedard of the National Guard said rescuers were forced to suspend the search for the Cessna 172 Thursday night because of a low cloud ceiling.

The Guard resumed the search Friday with an HC-130 Combat King II aircraft and a UH-60 Blackhawk with a pararescue team on board, but found nothing, Bedard said. Rescuers continued searching for about three hours Saturday morning before being forced to suspend the search just before noon because of the weather, Bedard said.

“There’s apparently a lot of turbulence over the search area, which would make the search effort not only more difficult but also more dangerous,” he said.

The Alaska Rescue Coordination Center plans to continue the search on Sunday, when weather conditions are more favorable, Bedard said.

The Civil Air Patrol said searchers are focusing on “an area between Rainy Pass and Simpson Pass northwest of Anchorage.”

Additionally, the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center is reviewing radar logs in hopes of detecting the plane’s past location, but the task is difficult because the terrain in the area is so rugged, Bedard said.

NTSB investigators were also working to model the weather patterns in the area around the time the plane was en route, Johnson said.

“At this point, we don’t know for a fact that we have an accident,” Johnson said.

Kenitzer said the Cessna’s pilot did not file a flight plan, which would have detailed the plane’s intended route and estimated time of arrival. Flight plans are required for commercial flights but not for private aircraft, he said.

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