Search For Missing Plane in Katmai National Park and Preserve Has Covered 17,500 Miles

The search for a missing plane over Katmai National Park and Preserve entered its sixth day Thursday. NPS aerial map.

Searchers returned to the skies over Katmai National Park and Preserve on Thursday as the hunt for a missing plane and its four occupants moved into its sixth day.

The efforts so far have involved aircraft crisscrossing an estimated 10,000 square miles of ground area and 17,500 air miles, but there was no deadline to end the search, said John Quinley, the National Park Service's assistant regional director for communications in Alaska.

"We've divided the whole area, the entire search area from Becharof Lake on the south up past McNeil on the north, divided that into grids, and our goal is to make sure that we’ve covered every section of that grid at least once," he said in a phone call from his Anchorage office. "The grids that are in the high probability areas have been searched multiple times already, really.

"We started off with a search that focused on the most likely routes that they would have followed. And now we’re into a grid search which sort of does an equal amount of search effort regardless of the terrain you’re covering," continued Mr. Quinley. "So some of those, by necessity, some of those grid flights are probably into the quadrupletic coverage on some of those routes and we’re hitting other areas for the first time.”

Despite that intense effort, so far there has been no sign of, and no signal from, the maroon de Havilland Beaver with white stripes (tail number N9313Z) since it left Swikshak Lagoon early Saturday afternoon for the park headquarters at King Salmon to the west with the pilot and three Park Service maintenance workers. The three -- Mason McLeod, 26, and brothers Neal and Seth Spradlin -- had been tearing down the old Swikshak patrol cabin to make way for a new cabin. Piloting the plane was Marco Alletto.

On Thursday the plan was to again have aircraft follow a north to south pattern and focus on high priority areas. Officials added that rescuers hope to have “new eyes” on the search area. The U.S. Coast Guard continued to search the coast and the Civil Air Patrol was working on the northern search areas.

The terrain being covered contains a mix of vegetation, from alders, willows and low-lying brush along the coastline to thicker woodlands inland and even barren alpine terrain up higher, said Mr. Quinley. Some of the vegetation was thick enough that it theoretically could "swallow" the plane, he said.

"There are many areas in there which could do just that. Some of that coastal area, which is just brushy and alders, willows that, depending on the height of it, it might swallow up a plane," said the Park Service official. "And then you have other areas which are, as you get up in towards the mountains and the passes, some of it is sort of more alpine. And then some of those other valleys as you get inland are all wooded, which could again, depending on how things happened, could sort of keep you from viewing anything."

Though there's been no sign of debris from the single-engine float plane, the searchers have seen other items in the search area.

"We found towards the coast a busted up shipping container. We’ve found fuel containers that were not associated with our folks, probably came off of a boat or some other plane," Mr. Quinley said. "So we’ve been able to spot fairly small objects in the search, but nothing that we have found -- there haven’t been very many -- but the few that we’ve found have not had anything to do with the plane.”

The NPS Alaska Incident Management Team, led by Incident Commander Richard Moore, has been assisting Katmai National Park by managing the search efforts for the missing aircraft.

Whether any of the plane's occupants might have survived a crash is impossible to say, but Mr. Quinley pointed to the recent plane crash that killed former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, as a reason to hope those aboard the de Havilland Beaver could have survived a crash.

"As we saw, sadly, most recently, the Ted Stevens crash, four people survived I think. Some of them were badly hurt, but they weren’t so badly hurt that they couldn’t have lived for, probably, a while," he said. "And the weather in this search area has been better than it was there, in terms of temperatures and clear skies."

However, the official feared the weather would not cooperate for much longer.

“We have had a couple of days of pretty good weather -- given the summer that we’ve been having -- and I don’t think that weather’s going to keep holding for us, it’s going to turn here," said Mr. Quinley. "It’s already starting to get crummy down on the south end of the search area. That’s what we’re up against.”

Comments

I received my first email from my Katmai Ranger daughter last night. Here's what she says about what's happening there:

We want to let everyone know that we are safe and doing as well as expected here at Brooks Camp in Katmai National Park. As most of you know from the news, we had three fellow maintenance park rangers and an Alaskan pilot in a beaver float plane go missing. They were scheduled to fly back to King Salmon from a 10 day trip from the northern coast in Katmai National Park on Saturday. They never showed and we have not found anything yet after five days of air searches. Its pretty tough for everyone here in camp since we both knew all three maintenance guys and they all worked and lived here at Brooks Camp. Two of them we worked with two summers now. Thank you for your prayers. Please keep praying for us to find them alive and keep the families of Mason, Neil & Seth, and the pilot Marco in your prayers as well.
We love you all and thank you for your support through this,
Ariel & Justin

Thank you for the update. Can anyone say if there have been any search efforts on foot?

I have known NPS employee Mason McLeod since he was born. His Mom & Dad are friends who I went to high school with. I spent a year in Southern Alaska in the sixties in the Coast Guard. I know the difficulty involved in searching a large area from the air. I found a B-25 Mitchell Bomber that had crashed in a deep valley during WWII while on a hunting trip in the Tangass Nat. forrest. Many areas have never been trod by a human foot and are very rugged. I pray that if they are down somewhere they survived the crash and have enough survival gear to last a while. Beavers are small compared to other aircraft and difficult to spot from the air. I hope and pray that this has a good outcome. I bless all those who are searching for my friend Mason and his associates.

I am the parent of a Katmai ranger who is currently involved in the search for the missing plane. My heart goes out to everyone involved in this situation. Many, many, MANY people are staying on top of this story and sending positive energy your way for a successful outcome.

In response to the question above, there have not been any search efforts by foot. See this link on Katmai National Park and Preserve's web site for the daily press releases on the search strategy: http://www.nps.gov/katm/parknews/newsreleases.htm.

Thank you for keeping us updated!! Neil is a good friend and we are holding everyone in our prayers right now!!

My sister is a Park Ranger at Katmai National Park. Here is the link to her blog.
http://geo-travels.blogspot.com/

my prayers are for all the families up there and for my brother District Ranger Chuck Carlson from Trego, Wisconsin...he left this morning to go up there to be with the families and to comfort them.

august 30, 2010

we will pray for all the families and also for my brother District Ranger of Trego, Wisconsin Chuck Carlson. Chuck left this morning to comfort and give full support to the families.

I know Marco the pilot very well he is a good man and i know if he survived a crash he will walk out some day...CMON MARCO walk out mate,,,,our prayers go out to all missing and searching,,
A.B.