Monday, December 2, 2013
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Federal investigators on Sunday started documenting the wreckage of a plane crash in remote southwest Alaska that killed four people and injured six Friday night.
A break in weather conditions allowed two investigators — from the National Transportation Safety Board and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration — on Sunday to reach the scene where a single-engine aircraft went down near the village of Saint Marys, said Clint Johnson, the chief of the NTSB's Alaska regional office.
"The goal is to document the wreckage at the accident site to the best of their ability, and be able to talk to witnesses," Johnson said Sunday afternoon.
He added that "it's way too early to draw any conclusions" about what cause the accident.
Investigators will be at the site for at least a day, possibly two, collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses, Johnson said. Another NTSB investigator in Anchorage also is hoping to interview survivors of the crash, he said.
The Hageland Aviation Cessna 208 crashed at around 6:30 p.m. Friday four miles from Saint Marys. It left Bethel on a scheduled flight for Mountain Village and eventually Saint Marys but never reached Mountain Village.
The airplane would have been flying in freezing rain with a mile of visibility and a 300-foot ceiling, a spokeswoman for the Alaska State Troopers has said.
Johnson said the plane was equipped with an advanced electronic locator transmitter that went off on impact and sent a satellite signal with GPS coordinates alerting officials to the accident.
At about 7 p.m. Friday, one of the survivors, Melanie Coffee, also made a frantic call for help resuscitating her 5-month-old baby, then walked nearly a mile to lead searchers hampered by cold and fog to the crash site.
Saint Marys has about 500 people and is located 470 miles west of Anchorage. Like many Alaska villages, it is off the state road system. People routinely use small aircraft to reach regional hubs where they can catch another plane to complete trips to Anchorage or other cities.
Pilot Terry Hansen, 68, passengers Rose Polty, 57, Richard Polty, 65, and a 5-month-old infant, Wyatt Coffee, died in the crash.
The survivors included the baby's mother, Coffee, 25, Pauline Johnson, 37, Kylan Johnson, 14, Tanya Lawrence, 35, Garrett Moses, 30, and Shannon Lawrence.
The survivors were taken to Anchorage hospitals. Five of them were reported in fair condition Saturday, the Anchorage Daily News reported Sunday. The sixth, Tanya Lawrence, was in serious condition, said a spokesperson for Providence Alaska Medical Center.