Weather hampers search for overdue plane

Posted: Monday, July 15, 2002

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- Searchers spotted a plane matching the description of an overdue floatplane and were heading to the site Sunday evening, the Alaska Air National Guard said.

The plane had been missing since Friday with four people on board.

Guard spokesman, Major Mike Haller said a Civil Air Patrol plane spotted a downed aircraft Sunday evening in the Chigmit Mountains southwest of Anchorage. But searchers could not confirm it was the missing plane and said they expected to reach the site later Sunday night.

''All we have right now is that the plane seen today generally fits the description of the missing plane,'' Haller said.

The three passengers are from the Kent Senior Activity Center in Kent, Wash., a suburb south of Seattle. Kent city officials said they were part of a nine-person group on two separate planes. The center did not release their names pending notification of family members.

A dozen Civil Air Patrol planes and a Guard HC-130 were involved in the search Sunday for the plane, described as a deHavilland DHC-2 MK-I Beaver on floats. The single-engine aircraft was operated by Big Foot Air of Alaska, from Lake Hood in Anchorage.

The pilot, Matt Hipkiss, was on a flight from Lake Hood to Iliamna Lake, where the three passengers were planning to fish, according to Dave Hines, director of operations for Big Foot.

''We're still considering his plane overdue,'' Hines said Sunday afternoon. ''We're hoping it's down safely. Matt is a very good pilot and would be able to bring a plane down safely. But that he hasn't contacted anyone bothers us.''

Hines said Hipkiss began working for Big Foot in May but had worked for other Alaska companies in the past. Hipkiss, 35, spends summers in Alaska and the rest of the year in Florence, Ore., where he has a seaplane base, Hines said.

The Beaver, built in 1956, went through a routine maintenance inspection July 5 and was found to be airworthy, according to Hines.

The National Guard had sought the public's help in locating the plane, which is dark green with light green trim and has a tail number of N3129F.

The plane took off from Lake Hood at 10:45 a.m. Friday. Hines said Hipkiss had flown in from Iliamna earlier that morning in good weather and reported no problems.

Four minutes after takeoff, Hipkiss radioed Big Foot to request a frequency change, a standard procedure. Soon after, the pilot contacted the Federal Aviation Administration's Kenai Flight Services to ask for a weather report for Lake Clark Pass, Hines said.

Hipkiss filed a flight plan, saying he was going from Lake Hood to Iliamna Lake. Then he checked in with his employer to say he was on his way.

''He said he would see us on the next trip,'' Hines said.

Hipkiss never arrived at his destination.

Haller said the pilot might have taken one of three routes -- through Lake Clark Pass or directly over the Aleutian Range or along the coast over Bruin Bay. Lake Clark Pass and the Chigmit Mountains are in the Aleutian Range.

The Rescue Coordination Center headed up the search along those routes, Haller said.

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