Every day since Tuesday five Central Emergency Services rescue workers have combed the inlets and fjords of Prince William Sound in the hopes of finding some clue as to the location of the LifeGuard helicopter that went missing more than a week ago.
Since the United States Coast Guard and Alaska State Troopers called off the rescue effort Monday, CES used its own boat and manpower to unearth anything that might relate to the crash, and will continue to search the area until Friday.
"We've sent five personnel and our boat down there and there are other boats that are in on this recovery effort also," said CES Fire Marshal Gary Hale. "Anything that's found gets turned over to the Alaska State Troopers."
Megan Peters, public information officer for the Alaska State Troopers, said there are private civilian vessels searching the area, but troopers are not behind the recovery effort. Recovery workers will contact troopers if they find any debris or a body, Peters said, but all formal planning ended Monday when the search was called off.
"Every indication is that the helicopter is in very deep water where we cannot reach," she said. "Now it's going to be on a case by case basis where if somebody finds something they will contact us and we will respond based on what they found."
Peters said if someone finds any debris or remains, troopers will go out and recover what was located and do a sweep of the area to see if there are any more debris.
Hale said CES will search the waters until the memorial service for paramedic Cameron Carter on Saturday. He couldn't say whether or not CES will resume the search next week, adding that decision would depend on whether they find anything within the next two days.
Hale said weather for the search effort has been favorable with calm seas and good visibility. CES's boat, Boat One, has an inboard motor, which makes it easier for recovery workers to search closer to shore and in areas where other boats can't, Hale said.
At this point, Hale said while the department is holding out hope that recovery workers find a clue as to where the helicopter is, those odds are steep.
"If we haven't found anything up until now some people will say you probably won't find anything," he said. "For the most part it's a waiting game. The odds as of right now are more against us than they are in our favor."
Central Emergency Services will hold a processional and memorial service for Cameron Carter, a paramedic who worked for CES for three years, at 12:15 p.m. at the department's Soldotna Station and at Soldotna Bible Chapel. Central Peninsula Hospital will also honor Carter, flight nurse John Stumpff, pilot Lance Brabham and patient Gaye McDowell with a public memorial service at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday at the Denali Conference Center at the hospital.
In a press release issued Wednesday, Governor Sarah Palin ordered state flags to be lowered to half-mast on Friday in honor of the crew and patient that was on board the LifeGuard helicopter.
"Todd and I send our thoughts and prayers to the families and friends of those who are lost and missing," she said. "I urge all Alaskans to pause and remember the selfless dedication of the LifeGuard crew and the courageous patient they were transporting."
Jessica Cejnar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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