|Tuesday, Aug 24, 2010|
The search for a missing airplane with four people aboard – three of them NPS employees – enters its fourth day today. 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 returned to the northeast part of the four million acre national park, particularly the several river valleys that drain into Kamishak Bay. The expectation was that the plane would have flown up one of the valleys, then along Kulik Lake west toward King Salmon. The weather in the primary search area was excellent, with largely clear skies and excellent visibility. Ten aircraft – four helicopters and six airplanes – participated in the search on Monday. The multi-agency effort included the National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Alaska State Troopers, U.S. Coast Guard, Alaska Air National 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 assist the park coordinate the search. Most aircraft involved in the search are equipped with GPS tracking devices, which allows search managers to plot areas that were intensely searched on Saturday and Sunday, along with areas that needed a closer examination yesterday. Helicopters searched the coast of Katmai from Katmai Bay to Swikshak Bay on the chance the missing aircraft began an unexpected route back to King Salmon on Saturday afternoon, but no sign of the missing plane was found. Today, search managers expect to send aircraft back to areas that have been less intensively searched in the last three days. By evening, the weather in King Salmon had deteriorated somewhat and rain was falling at 7:30 p.m., although the weather remained better in the primary search area to the east. Search aircraft were expected to return to King Salmon at about 10:30 p.m. 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 initiated through the Rescue Coordination Center on Saturday afternoon. A C-130 from Anchorage and a Coast Guard helicopter searched the area until 11 p.m. Saturday, but found nothing. There have been no radio or emergency locator transmitter transmissions. Katmai NP is about 300 miles southwest of Anchorage.