Texas couple presumed to be on board plane that crashed near Gulf of Alaska

A pilot and passenger from Texas were identified Saturday as the two people on board a plane reported missing last weekend that’s now presumed to have crashed in a glaciated, mountainous area near the Gulf of Alaska while en route to Ketchikan.

The National Park Service on Saturday identified the two presumed victims of the crash as married couple 59-year-old Clayton McMartin and 58-year-old Melissa McMartin from Roanoke, Texas.

The Park Service said in a statement that it was switching from rescue to recovery efforts “because of the elapsed time since the crash and continued poor weather conditions.”

Bad weather has kept responders from being able to reach the crash site this week.

“We are presuming this accident resulted in two fatalities, but we defer to the Park Service to make that confirmation,” said Clint Johnson, chief of the Alaska branch of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Johnson said survival was unlikely based on the remote location of the crash, and rudimentary photos of the site that the U.S. Coast Guard was able to provide.

The plane, a Beechcraft Bonanza B-36 en route to Ketchikan, was first reported overdue around noon Aug. 27. It left Glennallen just before 9 a.m. that day, and the aircraft’s final communication came about 18 miles inland of Cape Yakataga, troopers have said.


On Monday evening, a U.S. Coast Guard HC-130 located airplane wreckage in a “heavily glaciated” area north of the summit of Mount Leeper, in the southern part of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, the Park Service said.

In the days since then, poor weather conditions and difficult terrain at the wreckage site have prevented rescuers from reaching that location to confirm the identity of the victims and the plane.

Where the wreckage was found — about 9.5 miles north-northwest of the missing plane’s last known location — indicates that it’s a likely match for the missing plane, Park Service spokeswoman Carrie Wittmer said in an email.

“We presume this is the wreckage of the aircraft; we are waiting for the weather to improve to access the plane using a helicopter to make a positive identification,” she wrote.

The National Park Service has taken the lead on recovery efforts, and authorities hope the weather will improve enough in the next few days to make recovery possible, Johnson said.

“Recovery plans for this extremely remote location will be made in coordination with the NTSB as weather and winter snow conditions allow for a reconnaissance flight assessing on-the-ground landing options for helicopter crews,” the Park Service said.

If confirmed, the presumed fatal crash in Wrangell-St. Elias would mark at least the fifth fatal aviation accident in Alaska since June.

Annie Berman

Annie Berman is a reporter covering health care, education and general assignments for the Anchorage Daily News. She previously reported for Mission Local and KQED in San Francisco before joining ADN in 2020. Contact her at aberman@adn.com.