Plane wreckage found, two presumed dead

Posted: Friday, December 22, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A pilot and co-pilot of a cargo fuel plane were presumed dead Thursday after wreckage was found strewn over a steep mountainside southwest of Anchorage.

The wreckage was found at 2,800 feet on a steep ridgeline 10 miles south of Redoubt Volcano in Lake Clark National Park, about 110 miles southwest of Anchorage.

Two parajumpers with the Alaska Air National Guard searched the C-46 crash site for the pilot, James Munson, 44, and co-pilot, Fletcher Machen, 33, both of Kenai. Neither one of them was found, said Lt. Col. Chuck Foster of the Air National Guard. The plane did not have an ejection system.

''The crash site was located in pretty tough terrain,'' he said.

Foster said the parajumpers searched as well as they could in blowing snow but stopped after becoming uneasy about being caught in an avalanche.

Alaska State Trooper spokesman Greg Wilkinson said the wreckage was spread over a wide area and some of it had slid down the mountain.

State troopers, members of the National Transportation Safety Board and experts in avalanches and mountain rescue will attempt to take two helicopters to the site on Friday, Wilkinson said.

The plane, owned by Fairbanks-based Everts Air Fuel, was flying from Nondalton to Kenai after dropping off a load of fuel when it failed to return by 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. The Federal Aviation Administration notified the Alaska Air National Guard's Rescue Coordination Center at Fort Richardson that the plane was overdue.

''There was no communication with the pilot or co-pilot, and no beacon from an emergency locator transmitter,'' said Maj. Mike Haller, spokesman for RCC.

The Air National Guard sent an HC-130 Hercules aircraft to search the area Wednesday night. It returned when weather conditions prevented the crew from seeing anything, said Staff Sgt. Jeff Wells with the Air National Guard.

An HH-60G Pavehawk helicopter was launched Thursday at 7:30 a.m. A Civil Air Patrol plane also joined the search. The helicopter found the wreckage a half-mile from the last radar contact.

Wells said even in good weather the area around Lake Clark Pass is a difficult one for pilots. It was particularly bad Wednesday night because of rain, snow and ice, he said.

''It is rough and fairly mountainous and the weather usually is very fickle there,'' he said.

NTSB records indicate only three incidents in Alaska with C-46 aircraft, Haller said.

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