A small plane’s emergency beacon activated earlier this week after the plane encountered a mechanical problem and rolled over near Hatcher Pass, causing it to expand, A multi-day search effort that ended with authorities learning the pilot was safe — and had coordinated his own rescue days earlier, Alaska State Troopers said.
Soldiers first received the beacon transmission Feb. 6 from what appeared to be an unidentifiable aircraft east of Parks Highway near Willow and Talkeetna, soldiers said in an online report.
Most modern emergency locators fitted to aircraft include data in their transmissions about the aircraft and who it is registered to. But the transmission on that plane was an old-style beacon that didn’t include any data except the general vicinity it came from, trooper spokesman Austin McDaniel said Saturday.
After soldiers found no distress calls in the area or overdue aircraft reports, several Civil Air Patrol volunteers searched for the aircraft for several days using special equipment to locate beacon transmissions. , the soldiers said. The extreme weather brought high winds and low visibility, challenging the volunteers who also undertook a 13-hour ground search in their bid to find the plane, the soldiers said.
The Alaska Army National Guard and Alaska Wildlife Troopers deployed helicopters to find the beacon, with no success.
After four days of searching, Civil Air Patrol volunteer pilots located an overturned 1946 Taylorcraft BV12-D in the Lynx Peak area near Hatcher Pass on Thursday afternoon, soldiers said.
The Alaska Air National Guard sent a rescue team to where the plane appeared to have been abandoned with no signs that anyone was hurt, soldiers said. Footprints from the plane site led up the mountain but did not indicate where the pilot might have gone after that, leading state and wildlife troopers to try to determine if the pilot had coordinated his own extraction, according to the soldiers.
That evening, the authorities were able to reach the pilot of this plane by telephone, soldiers said. The pilot, whom soldiers did not identify in the report, told soldiers that his plane encountered mechanical problems during a flight on February 6 and was forced to make a hard landing. He was able to contact another pilot who picked him up on another plane, the soldiers said.
Troopers notified the National Transportation Safety Board of the incident Thursday, McDaniel said. The plane’s owner is working to remove the plane from the site near Lynx Peak, the soldiers said.
McDaniel said the Department of Public Safety generally does not release the identities of those involved in search and rescue operations unless it helps them find missing people; they have been charged with a crime; or, if they died in the incident, their next of kin have been notified.
Federal law requires pilots to report crashes or incidents to the nearest NTSB office, which McDaniel said the pilot failed to do.
The incident is an example of the importance for pilots to communicate with federal and state authorities when involved in any type of accident with their aircraft, McDaniel said.
McDaniel encouraged recreational pilots to report incidents like this to state troopers or the NTSB even when they don’t meet the federal reporting threshold, “just to let people know what’s going on with this plane”.
“That way we don’t have a situation like this where we have, you know, several days of searching for activation (of a beacon) that maybe the pilot wasn’t aware of that it was even on,” McDaniel said.
Search efforts over the past week have cost thousands of dollars and consumed hours of worker and volunteer work, he said.
“Our search and rescue mission can really be hampered when people don’t let us know they’ve saved themselves or gone off the field,” McDaniel said. “So always let us know you got out safely.”