Air ambulance company ends 2-month underwater search for crew of crashed plane

The air ambulance company that lost three Juneau-based crew members in a crash near Kake in late January said this week it’s ending the search for their remains.

The U.S. Coast Guard initially called off the search after nearly three days of round-the-clock efforts to locate the Guardian Flight turboprop and the three people inside: pilot Patrick Coyle, 63; flight nurse Stacie Morse, 30; and flight paramedic Margaret Langston, 43.

Then Guardian announced in early February it would take up the search in hopes of recovering the bodies of the crew as well as the wreckage of the Beechcraft King Air 200 to assist federal investigators.

The two-month search that followed yielded the plane’s cockpit voice recorder and fragmented major assemblies of the aircraft including the cockpit, fuselage, tail, engines, propeller blades, wing sections and landing gear, Guardian senior vice president Randy Lyman said in a statement posted on Facebook late Wednesday.

But the search failed to reveal “any of the remains of our friends aboard the aircraft when it crashed,” Lyman said. “This is very disappointing to their families and our entire Guardian Flight team and extended family of first responders, air medical transporters and health care professionals.”

The National Transportation Safety Board investigation into the crash is just beginning. Investigators will examine the cockpit recorder, which was sent to its Washington, D.C., headquarters, and examine the wreckage as they try to determine what caused the crash.

Guardian is still planning a helicopter search of the shoreline for aircraft fragments that may have washed up recently, Lyman said.

The company thanked entities that helped search through sometimes foul weather and rough seas, including good Samaritans, the Coast Guard, NTSB, Alaska State Troopers, local law enforcement, and their own search team.

The company used underwater search and recovery experts in the analysis of seven square miles of ocean and ocean floor, as well as more than 700 linear miles traversed by ship, he said. “Our search team and the professionals in such efforts have concluded that we have exhausted all our remaining options in our underwater search and recovery efforts.”

Guardian will be planning a memorial service in Juneau in the next few months.