Update: debris found on Lake Clark, search for submerged wreckage begins

Dec 8, 2016

Crash victims identified Friday as search for wreckage continues. Debris linked to plane picked up on Lake Clark Thursday, approx. 11 miles northeast of Port Alsworth.

Looking towards the search area on Lake Clark from Port Alsworth. Photo taken this month but under different weather conditions.
Credit National Park Service

Update, Friday 12:00 p.m.: On Friday morning, authorities released the names of those presumed dead in Wednesday's crash: pilot Kyle Longerbeam, 25, Scott Blom, 45, and his children Zach Blom, 13, and Kaitlyn Blom, 14.

The National Park Service says items belonging to passengers were found on Lake Clark about 11 miles northeast of Port Alsworth. No debris from the aircraft itself has been found. The water in that area is around 375 feet.

NPS spokesman John Quinley said the search would start Friday after lunch, hopefully with better weather than the morning's fog and light snow.

"We have a couple of boats getting ready to head up the lake. If the weather allows we'll also have an aircraft up to continue looking for any debris that might be on the water or on the shore," he said.

National Transportation Safety Board Alaska Region Chief Clint Johnson said his office was working with NPS as it begins an investigation.

"With the news that the Park Service did find some debris that we were able to identify back to the missing airplane, we're led to believe at this point that the aircraft is in the water. The NTSB will be taking over the accident investigation, and Shaun Williams from our office will be the investigator in charge," Johnson said early Friday.

- This is an update from Friday morning. The original story is below. -

KDLG:  On Thursday, volunteers searching by boat from Port Alsworth found debris on Lake Clark believed to be from the Piper Cherokee aircraft that went missing Wednesday. 

The National Park Service sent word late in the evening that items belonging to the four onboard the flight were found floating in the lake north and east of Port Alsworth Thursday afternoon.

The Cherokee left Port Alsworth around 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, apparently headed through Lake Clark Pass towards Anchorage, but never arrived. Heavy ice fog was reported in the northeast corner of the lake, near the start of the pass. Searches by air Wednesday and Thursday turned up no clues, nor had any emergency locator beacon been received. Ice fog was reported both days in that same area on the west end of the pass.

According to the Park Service, the investigation, search and recovery planning will continue this morning.

The four onboard, including two children, are all from Port Alsworth.

- The original story is below. -

An FAA cam at Lake Clark Pass West, at the northeast corner of Lake Clark, looking northeast. Ice fog conditions can develop quickly in this area, say local pilots, even when the weather is clear elsewhere.
Credit FAA

A second day of search efforts are underway for a plane that went missing between Port Alsworth and Anchorage Wednesday. Four people from Port Alsworth were onboard. KDLG’s Dave Bendinger has more:

Audio Transcript:  The missing single engine Piper PA-28 Cherokee is owned by Lake Clark Air, but is used as a rental or training aircraft. The renting pilot, a passenger and his two children left Port Alsworth Wednesday morning. It was unclear early Thursday what their exact flight plan had been, but it was believed they were heading to Anchorage and were reported overdue early afternoon.

"The plane took off approximately 10:30 from Port Alsworth, and was scheduled to get to Merrill Field in Anchorage at about noon. The plane was supposed to be taking a route through Lake Clark Pass. The plane didn’t show up, so the gears of the rescue mission spooled up," said Alaska Air National Guard spokesman SSgt. Edward Eagerton.

An extensive search and rescue effort was launched Wednesday afternoon, with two fixed wing aircraft flying the route with rescuers onboard. An HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter joined the search later. Thick ice fog and the early sunset hampered efforts.

“There was a lot of fog in the pass, so their search area was pretty limited, between that and darkness," SSgt. Eagerton said. "They flew the area around Port Alsworth, the north and south shore, and then on the other end of the pass on the Peninsula, and hadn’t found them yet.”

He pointed out that pilots could use night vision equipment to fly into the evening, but the fog was the limiting factor.

There was no emergency locator beacon transmitting from the area. The Cherokee is equipped with an ELT that should go off in the event of a crash, or can be manually activated after an unexpected landing.

The second day of the search started early Thursday, according to Eagerton.

"Five planes from the Civil Air Patrol are going to assist in the search," he said around 8:00 a.m. "As well they’re going to be launching the HH-60 and one of the C-130’s a little before first light so they’re going to be on station as the light comes up, and resume the search."

By 1:00 p.m. Thursday, the seach had produced no updates. Glen Alsworth, Sr., whose company owns the Cherokee, said the small, tight-knit community was prayerfully waiting for news.

"We’re so thankful that the assets that are put on the search effort are so incredible," he said. "The military side, numerous wonderful assets on the search. Civil Air Patrol is out searching, private aircraft are out searching, and I just heard a little bit ago that a number of boats have launched at Lake Clark and are searching the shoreline as well. We’re very fortunate that so many folks are putting so much effort, and we’re all praying for a very quick and good resolution to it. We appreciate everyone’s thoughts and prayers.”

The weather through Lake Clark Pass was reported as less than ideal Wednesday, with some flights staying grounded on account of the thick ice fog. Lake Clark Pass is the main route for small aircraft traveling from Anchorage or Kenai in and out of southwest Alaska.

A little over a month ago, David McRae, 55, was killed in a crash while flying solo from Anchorage to Lake Clark through Merrill Pass, an accident still under investigation.

Reach the author at dave@kdlg.org or 907-842-5281.

The same Lake Clark Pass West cam facing northeast, but shown on a clear day. Compare with photo at top of article.
Credit FAA

A sectional showing the coverage shown on web cams at the FAA's Lake Clark Pass West station.
Credit FAA

At the east end of Lake Clark Pass Thursday afternoon, the weather was shown clear with no ice fog. (Lake Clark Pass East, looking northwest)
Credit FAA