A single-engine plane missing since Monday was found Thursday afternoon crashed near the summit of Thompson Pass with the pilot dead inside, Alaska State Troopers say.
Sutton resident Andy Andersen took off from Valdez around 5 p.m. Monday in a red and white Aeronca Champion, with an expected arrival time in Sutton of 6:30 p.m. Andersen was well known in Mat-Su and motocross circles for his backyard racetrack that eventually became Valley Rally Raceway.
At about 2:15 p.m. Thursday, an Alaska Army National Guard HH-60 Black Hawk helicopter and crew located the wreckage about 1,000 feet off the Richardson Highway, troopers said.
Scores of friends, family and other civilians were involved in the search for the missing plane, in hopes that Andersen had landed somewhere in the Chugach Mountains to wait out bad weather that also hindered air searches for several days.
Social media posts during the search effort indicated Andersen may have planned to follow highways from Valdez to Sutton.
Tributes poured in for Andersen on Friday.
“God bless this man for being an exceptional human. You were loved by so many and will be missed by all,” read one post from Anchorage Racing Lions Motocross. “Your passion for motocross inspired us all and we will continue to ride in your honor, as we know you’ll be looking down on us every race day. We pray that your family finds peace in this inconceivable time and we promise to forever be your childrens’ guardians on the ground while you guard them from above.”
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash.
Two investigators were expected to reach the wreckage Friday morning, according to the agency’s Alaska chief, Clint Johnson. FAA inspectors are also involved in the investigation.
The plane crashed about 20 miles north of Valdez but the site was obscured from the highway by terrain, Johnson said.
NTSB officials will interview people who may have seen Andersen’s plane on Monday, review meteorological data for the plane’s flight path and also examine the wreckage for any mechanical issues, among other aspects of the investigation.
Any witnesses are asked to contact the agency at email@example.com.
A fundraiser created Thursday to cover the cost of fuel and search efforts had generated nearly $20,000 on a $10,000 goal by Friday morning.
Agencies involved in the search included the Alaska Army and Air National Guards, a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter out of Cordova, and members of the Civil Air Patrol, according to Guard spokesman Alan Brown. With so many civilians involved, Alaska State Troopers also requested help from Alaska Incident Management Team to coordinate the ground search.
The Federal Aviation Administration, in coordination with the Rescue Coordination Center, enacted flight restrictions in the Thompson Pass area to provide safe airspace during the search, Brown said.