Helicopter goes down in Cook Inlet, near Anchorage airport

Posted: Friday, October 19, 2001

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- Authorities were waiting for high tides to subside Friday before resuming their search for three people still missing in Cook Inlet after a helicopter crash Thursday afternoon west of Anchorage's international airport.

The search is now considered a recovery effort rather than a rescue, according to officials with the Anchorage Fire Department, among the agencies assisting in the effort.

Deputy Fire Chief Dennis Hoke said searchers will head out in a rescue helicopter during the next low tide, due about 4:20 p.m. in the inlet mud flats.

''It's too dangerous to put rescuers in the water in Cook Inlet,'' Hoke said. ''It has a horrendous current.''

Two people were rescued Thursday after the Bell 206 LongRanger went down in a snow storm about three miles from the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. But heavy snow and poor visibility during low tides Thursday evening and early Friday morning forced the fire department and Alaska Air National Guard to suspend the search for those missing.

The LongRanger, operated by Era Aviation, was traveling from Fire Island, about five miles west of the Anchorage airport, when the crash occurred at about 3:45 p.m.

The helicopter was carrying four employees of the Federal Aviation Administration who had been conducting maintenance on FAA navigation aids on the uninhabited island, said Marcia Davis, spokeswoman for Era Aviation.

Missing and presumed dead were pilot Bob Larson, 60, of Anchorage; Joyce tucker, 46, of Anchorage and Ronald Frizzell, 53, of Wasilla.

Those rescued were identified as Steven Durand, 47, of Anchorage and William Dick, 34, of Anchorage.

The water temperature in Cook Inlet at the time of the crash was in the mid to upper 40s, according to the National Weather Service. The crash occurred at low tide.

''One of our rescue boats picked up a laptop and a duffel back and they saw some wreckage. The other rescue boat, due to low tide, was not able to get close enough to determine anything,'' said Cleo Hill, fire department spokeswoman.

The two survivors were transported to Providence Alaska Medical Center where they were being treated for hypothermia, Hill said.

Larson, the pilot, had recently retired as a search-and-rescue pilot for the Alaska State Troopers. He joined Era in June after a 21-year civilian career with the troopers.

Larson was no stranger to flying in treacherous conditions. During his years with the troopers, he was a highly respected pilot and called to fly in conditions that grounded others.

In 1986, Larson received a meritorious service award for his work evacuating Crown Point residents after a rail tank car began leaking.

''He was one of the true Alaska aviators,'' Hoke said. ''We all knew him. Every time I was involved in a search effort, he was there. This is like losing one of our own.''

Local investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board also knew Larson well. As a trooper pilot, he flew them to numerous crash sites they investigated over the years, said Jim La Belle, NTSB's field chief in Alaska.

As a result of that intimacy with Larson, the agency was sending Kurt Anderson, an investigator from the Seattle office, to the site Friday afternoon, La Belle said. Anderson will head the investigation, with assistance from the local NTSB office.

''We want to avoid any hint of impropriety,'' La Belle said.

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