Era continues search for victims of helicopter crash

Posted: Wednesday, October 24, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Era Aviation continued to search the waters of Cook Inlet Tuesday, trying to locate the victims and wreckage of an Oct. 18 helicopter crash.

''Obviously our number one priority remains to locate the two remaining passengers and, secondary, to recover the aircraft,'' said Chuck Johnson, president of Era Aviation.

Federal Aviation Administration employees Joyce Tucker of Anchorage and Ronald Frizzell of Wasilla remain missing and are presumed dead. The body of Era Aviation pilot Bob Larson Anchorage, was recovered Friday. Two other FAA employees, Steven Durand and William Dick, both of Anchorage, survived the crash.

A boat equipped with side-directed sonar and a directional hydrophones designed to pick up the pinging sound from the Bell 206 LongRanger's emergency locator beacon was used in the search Tuesday.

For a second day, the equipment did not pick up any signal from the locating device, Johnson said, but the sonar pinpointed something at which searchers hope to get a better look.

''We found a couple of interesting objects. It could be absolutely nothing, just rocks. I don't want to give anybody any hope about what we're looking at until we get a better definition. There are lots of things out in the inlet,'' Johnson said.

The strong tidal shifts in Cook Inlet and the murkiness of the water make the search difficult.

''It's probably the worst place in the world to conduct a search,'' Johnson said.

The company planned to deploy a larger boat Wednesday that can remain on the water for 24 hours and can operate in heavy seas. The 135-foot vessel operated by Fairweather Marine Services, is equipped with a crane, divers and technicians.

The crash occurred as the FAA employees were returning to Anchorage after performing maintenance on FAA navigation aids on Fire Island, 5 miles west of Anchorage airport.

The helicopter went down during a snowstorm. Visibility was so poor that Larson had requested a special clearance from the air traffic control tower at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport to fly. Larson was flying about 50 feet above the water.

The survivors of the crash told a National Transportation Safety Board investigator there were no indications of mechanical problems with the helicopter prior to the crash.

''They, themselves, did not indicate that they observed mechanical difficulties, but you've got to understand they were not the ones flying the aircraft,'' NTSB investigator Kurt Anderson told KTUU.

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