|Wednesday, Aug 25, 2010|
The search for a missing airplane with four people aboard – three of them NPS employees – enters its fifth day today, with no sign of the aircraft yet discovered. The single engine floatplane, a de Havilland Beaver operated by Branch River Air Service in King Salmon, has been missing since Saturday afternoon. The missing employees are Mason McLeod, 26, and brothers Neal Spradlin, 28, and Seth Spradlin, 20. The pilot is Marco Alletto, 47, from King Salmon. Yesterday, searchers expanded the southern and southwestern boundaries of the search area. Coast Guard efforts focused on areas around Becharoff Lake, Kejulik Pass, Katmai Pass, and the park coastline north to McNeil River River, covering a five mile buffer over the water. Areas not previously covered to the northeast continue to be searched. The weather in the primary search area was excellent, with largely clear skies and excellent visibility. Eight aircraft – two helicopters and six fixed wing – participated in the search on Tuesday. The multi-agency effort includes the National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Alaska State Troopers, U.S. Coast Guard, Egli Air Haul, and Branch River Air. Other air taxi operators taking clients to the area have also informally joined the search. The National Park Service has a regional incident management team in place at the park’s King Salmon headquarters to help the park coordinate the search. Most aircraft involved in the search are equipped with GPS tracking devices which allow the search managers to plot areas that have been intensely searched, along with areas that need a closer examination. Helicopters searched the coast of Katmai from Katmai Bay to Swikshak Bay yesterday morning on the chance that the missing aircraft began an unexpected route back to King Salmon on Saturday afternoon; no sign of the missing plane was found. There has been a gallant response from the pilot community with offers to assist in search efforts. Due to safety and communication concerns, pilots are asked to contact the dispatch office at 907-246-3305 to coordinate any search efforts. This will not only enhance the geographical area of the search but relieve pilots for periods of rest. The search began late Saturday afternoon after the Beaver failed to return to King Salmon. Two planes owned by Branch River Air Service in King Salmon flew to Swikshak Lagoon on Saturday to pick up an NPS maintenance crew working there. preparing for the reconstruction of an old ranger station. Three people were picked up by the Beaver at 1:45 p.m., and a second plane left Swikshak 15 minutes later. The second plane, with two employees and pilot on board, returned safely but had to fly much of the way 500 feet above ground level due to deteriorating weather conditions. An emergency response was begun through the Rescue Coordination Center on Saturday afternoon. There have been no radio or emergency locator transmitter transmissions. Katmai N.P is about 300 miles southwest of Anchorage – click on this link for maps of the park and of the routes flown in the search to date.