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Alaska National Guard continues search for missing aircraft

By Sgt. David Bedard and Lt. Col. Candis Olmstead | Alaska National Guard | March 13, 2019

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska — Soldiers and Airmen with the Alaska National Guard continue the search today for a missing Cessna 172 and pilot after his hunting partner reported the pilot overdue the evening of March 6.

A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from the Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment, departed Tuesday morning from Bryant Army Airfield at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to search in the vicinity of Rainy Pass. Bad weather with low-cloud ceilings and fierce winds have hampered search efforts since they began.

Alaska Air National Guard members with the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center are leading the joint-agency coordinated effort. They sent an HC-130 Combat King II, four aircraft from Civil Air Patrol, and a UH-60 Black Hawk out Tuesday with a solid search plan.

The Black Hawk has two Air Guard pararescuemen from the 212th Rescue Squadron and one Army Guard critical-care flight paramedic from Golf Company, 2nd General Support Aviation Battalion, 104th Aviation Regiment, to provide emergency medical treatment if required.

The Alaska National Guard, United States Coast Guard, Civil Air Patrol, Alaska State Troopers, National Park Service and many good Samaritans have all assisted with search operations for this mission, said Alaska Air National Guard Lt. Col. Keenan Zerkel, Alaska RCC director.

“We have implemented multiple search efforts from the air and ground as weather allows,” he said. “Additionally, we’ve been conducting an electronic search overhead for the aircraft emergency locator transmitter since the start of the mission. Today with the improved weather, we are focusing a visual search on the higher levels of terrain.”

The RCC received radar reduction information from the Federal Aviation Administration, Civil Air Patrol and the Air Guard’s 176 Air Defense Squadron, providing them with an idea of the last known position of the aircraft, but due to the aircraft’s altitude and surrounding terrain, the position is not definitive.

Zerkel also credited Steve Perrins of the Rainy Pass Lodge for helping with the search.

“They have been an incredible help by providing accurate weather reports, conducting a ground search, providing fuel to the State Trooper A-Star helicopter and other logistics to searchers, and coordinating communication with passing aircraft,” he said.

Because Rainy Pass is a highly trafficked area with confined terrain, the RCC requests pilots stay vigilant and check in on the common traffic advisory frequency. The RCC is not requesting additional good Samaritan assets at this time.