Reduced visibility hampers Alaska plane wreckage effort
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Foggy and reduced visibility conditions delayed efforts to recover the wreckage of a sightseeing plane that crashed in southeast Alaska, killing six people, a National Transportation Safety Board official said Sunday.
Clint Johnson, chief of the agency’s Alaska region, said efforts to reach the site Sunday were called off due to poor conditions. The team planned to try again Monday, he said.
“However long it takes, we will wait for the weather and wait patiently for it. But we’re going to get this done,” he said.
The wreckage was in a rugged, steep area that is heavily forested, at 1,800 feet (548.6 meters) to 2,000 feet (609.6 meters) “up on the side of a mountain,” he said. The site is about 12 miles northeast of Ketchikan, Johnson said.
“Very challenging conditions,” Johnson said, adding that the wreckage would have to be removed by helicopter.
He described conditions at the accident site as having low ceilings, reduced visibility and fog.
Investigators also were conducting interviews in Ketchikan, he said.
The flight was returning to Ketchikan on Thursday from a tour of Misty Fjords National Monument when it crashed, Johnson said.
The plane carried five passengers and the pilot. The Alaska State Troopers identified the pilot as Rolf Lanzendorfer, 64, of Cle Elum, Washington. Troopers identified the passengers as Mark Henderson, 69, and Jacquelyn Komplin, 60, both of Napa, California; Andrea McArthur, 55, and Rachel McArthur, 20, both of Woodstock, Georgia; and Janet Kroll, 77, of Mount Prospect, Illinois.
Troopers and Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad members reached the scene via a chartered helicopter Saturday afternoon and recovered the bodies, which were being taken to the state medical examiner’s office in Anchorage, the troopers said.
Kathleen Grayson, Henderson’s sister, told the Napa Valley Register that Henderson and Komplin had sent messages during their trip “talking about how gorgeous” it was in Alaska. “They were having so much fun,” she said.
Henderson was retired but had worked as a public defender, while Komplin was a registered nurse and instructor at Pacific Union College, the news outlet reported.
Komplin coordinated a wellness program associated with Meals on Wheels for Community Action of Napa Valley, the group’s executive director, Drene Johnson, told The Associated Press. She said Komplin was excited about the trip.
“We were all wishing her well, and that’s what’s so hard for us to comprehend is, now she’s gone,” she said, describing Komplin as “one of a kind.”
One recent post on Kroll’s Facebook page showed Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau in the background. Another was captioned: “I finally made it to Alaska! Hooray!”
Davis McArthur said his mother, Andrea McArthur, and sister, Rachel McArthur, were on a “girls’ trip” before his sister returned to college. He said Andrea McArthur was a flight attendant with Delta Air Lines and that the two women loved traveling and adventure.
Andrea McArthur “had a heart of gold,” he said, adding later: “If there was a need, just know it was going to get met. If you needed somebody to talk to, she was that shoulder to lean on.”
“You could see Jesus in her,” he said.
Rachel McArthur, too, was “always wanting to help out,” he said. She also was independent and strong, he said.
Delta Air Lines released a statement Sunday saying that it was “mourning the loss of one of our own and our hearts and thoughts go out to the many who knew, worked with and admired her.”
Lanzendorfer’s Linkedin profile said he had worked for Southeast Aviation as a pilot since May 2015. Bri Kelly, a media contact for Southeast Aviation, did not provide any details about the pilot’s tenure with the company and directed questions related to the accident to Johnson.
Johnson said Lanzendorfer was the pilot in a July 9 incident in which a Southeast Aviation plane hit an inlet buoy on departure near Coffman Cove and flipped. Alaska State Troopers previously reported the pilot was the only person on board and that no injuries were reported.
Johnson said that’s just “a piece of information that we’re putting on the pile” as investigators probe Thursday’s crash.
The Seattle Times reported that Lanzendorfer had been flying commercial floatplanes for more than 40 years and was described by Clyde Carlson, founder of Washington-based Northwest Seaplanes, as “an excellent pilot.”
Holland America Line confirmed the five passengers on the flight had been traveling on the company’s ship Nieuw Amsterdam, which was nearing the end of seven-day Alaska cruise.
Ketchikan is a popular stop for cruise ships visiting Alaska, and sightseeing excursions, such as those to Misty Fjords National Monument, are among the options for exploring the area while off the ship.
The cruise line said the excursion the passengers were on was not sold by Holland America Line.
Southeast Aviation, in a statement Thursday, said it was cooperating with the agencies involved. “All of us share in the anguish of this tragic incident, and our prayers go out to all affected,” the statement said.
The plane’s emergency beacon was activated about 11:20 a.m. Thursday, the U.S. Coast Guard has said.
A helicopter company reported seeing wreckage on a ridgeline in the search area, and Coast Guard crew members found the wreckage around 2:40 p.m. They reported no survivors, the Coast Guard said.
Weather conditions at the site included mist and light rain, the Coast Guard said.