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Mon, Dec 10, 2007

Helicopter, Pilot, Two Passengers Still Missing In Alaska

Search Continues After A Door And A Body Were Found

Debris from a LifeGuard medevac helicopter and the body of a flight nurse have been found in Passage Canal near Whittier, Alaska Saturday afternoon as the search continues for the other three occupants of the aircraft. The body of flight nurse John Stumpff, 47 of Sterling, Alaska washed up on the shore near the debris, according to Megan Peters, a spokeswoman with the Alaska State Troopers.

Crew on an Alaska Air National Guard Pave Hawk helicopter spotted the debris while searching for the LifeGuard helicopter. The Pave Hawk then flew closer and confirmed the human remains, and the left sliding door from the BK-117. The door was the only piece of the helicopter that was identifiable, according to McHugh Pierre, spokesman for the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, and the National Guard.

The medevac helicopter from Providence Hospital operated by Evergreen Helicopters, Inc. went down somewhere along the flight path on its way to Anchorage from Cordova Monday evening about 40 minutes into a 90-minute flight. The aircraft was reported missing when it failed to make two regular 10-minute position updates with a satellite telephone. According to the Associated Press the last known contact was at 5:18 p.m. on December 3. The remains and debris was found along the usual flight route, according to officials.

"That's the flight pattern that people take to go through Portage Pass" and on into Anchorage, said Pierre.

Also on the aircraft and still missing: pilot Lance Brabham, 42, of Soldotna; paramedic Cameron Carter, 24, of Kenai and the Butte; and patient Gaye McDowell, 60, of Cordova.

McDowell was on her way to Providence Alaska Medical Center to be treated for complications after breast cancer surgery. Families have been updated and next of kin for Stumpff has been notified, troopers said.

Troopers weren't ready to give up hope on the three still missing, but Peters acknowledged that, "it doesn't look promising."

"Our folks always assume that people are living until we know otherwise," Pierre said.

Details were sparse and a press conference will be held late Sunday about the developments of the search. Peters said that troopers are trying to piece together what happened and that more information should come out today.

"This is by no means the end of the search effort. They are making arrangements and plans to see what needs to be done tomorrow," Pierre said.

The debris is being turned over to the National Transportation Safety Board for its investigation into the accident. The search was hampered early in the week by bad weather. The ceiling lifted on Saturday giving searchers better visibility, according to Pierre. Searchers in the Pave Hawk confirmed that they had a body, return to Whittier and picked up Alaska State Troopers and took them to the scene.

Stumpff's remains were turned over to the State Medical Examiner's Office. An Alaska Air National Guard has a C-130 on the scene along with a Pave Hawk helicopter. Earlier in the week the U.S. Coast Guard launched the cutter Sycamore, along with local fishing boats assisted in the search.

The Sycamore returned to Cordova on Friday to refuel. Alaska State Trooper helicopter "Helo-1," and a Coast Guard Jayhawk helicopter also searched on Saturday along with volunteer pilots in the Valdez Civil Air Patrol.

FMI: www.providence.org/alaska/lifeguard, www.ak-prepared.com/DMVA/, www.evergreenaviation.com/EHI/svcs_avionics.html


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