Coast Guard, troopers suspend search for missing men

Posted: Wednesday, July 16, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) The search for a Utah man and his teenage son who ditched their plane in the cold waters off Chichagof Island in Southeast Alaska was suspended Tuesday.

''For the most part, every square inch of water and land in that area was really saturated by searchers,'' said Coast Guard spokesman Chief Petty Officer Roger Wetherell.

The Coast Guard ended its search late Monday after a team of volunteers using dogs combed about a two-mile stretch of shore near where the airplane went down. Alaska State Troopers called off its search at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Gary Ostler, the pilot, and his 18-year-old son, Christopher, were last seen trying to swim to shore after his Cessna 401 was forced to ditch Sunday night in Icy Strait, about 12 miles south of Gustavus.

Gary Ostler's two sons-in-law, Khyl Shummway and Ben Gunn, managed to swim more than a mile to shore and were picked up by the Coast Guard the next morning.

Shummway hugged and kissed relatives as he arrived back in Salt Lake City International Airport on Tuesday. He talked with reporters about the swim to shore and about his determination to survive.

''Ben continued to call, 'are you there yet, Khyl. Are you there yet?' And I said 'not yet just keep swimming,''' Shummway said. ''I think we saved each others lives.''

Gordon and Adam Moses, identified as the pilot's brothers-in-law, were not seen exiting the airplane. The Coast Guard has listed all four men as missing, but it is prepared to respond if there is evidence anyone made it to shore.

The six men were on their way to Gustavus, a small town of about 420 that sits at the foot of the St. Elias Mountains about 48 miles northwest of Juneau, on Sunday to fish.

''They were going on a fun Alaskan fishing trip,'' the pilot's wife, Kristen Ostler, told The Salt Lake Tribune.

Radio conversations with air controllers in Juneau indicate the plane, which took off from Port Angeles, Washington, ran out of fuel and was forced to ditch.

Gary Ostler had planned to refuel in Ketchikan but never stopped there, said Clint Johnson, an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board. Ostler also considered stopping further north in Petersburg, but did not.

There is no immediate plan to recover the airplane, said Alaska State Trooper spokesman Greg Wilkinson. And without the airplane, the crash investigation will likely center on conversations Ostler had with air controllers during the trip and other documents, Johnson said.

The range of Ostler's airplane wasn't immediately clear and can vary, depending on what modifications were performed since it was manufactured in 1969, Johnson said.

''In the normal configuration, the fuel capacity (of this trip) would have been very, very close,'' Johnson said.

Weather conditions and the pilot's own ability to manage the fuel can also affect the range, he said.

Gary Ostler has made several trips to Alaska and is an experienced pilot, said his brother Ralph Ostler.

''We're just holding out hope it turns out well,'' Ostler told the Deseret Morning News on Monday.

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