According to a Tuesday AST dispatch, 67-year-old pilot William Gough and 65-year-old passenger Alan Thompson were the occupants of the Piper PA-12 plane which was located Monday near Iron Creek east of Talkeetna.
“Investigation revealed Gough and Thompson were en route to a hunting camp up the Talkeetna River on (Sunday evening) and crashed due to poor weather conditions and steep terrain,” troopers wrote. “Neither man was injured in the incident, however the mayday signal did not get picked up until nearly 24 hours later. The men were prepared for the weather and stayed at the crash site until their rescue.”
Alaska National Guard spokesperson Sgt. Edward Eagerton says in a Tuesday statement that an F-22 Raptor fighter pilot, returning from training at Eielson Air Force Base, told the 11th Air Force’s Rescue Coordination Center just after 1:30 p.m. Monday that he had heard a Mayday call but wasn’t able to get a radio response.
While RCC members weren’t immediately able to match the call to an overdue civilian or military aircraft, the Federal Aviation Administration’s Anchorage Center reported receiving a Mayday call at about 2:45 p.m., placing the crash near Deep Creek.
At about 3:45 p.m., an Alaska Air National Guard HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter launched from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, just as an active-duty C-130 Hercules with JBER’s 537th Airlift Squadron picked up and monitored the 121.5 MHz ELT’s signal. The C-130 handed off the search -- hampered by communications difficulties in the area -- to the Pave Hawk and an HC-130 search plane, with the helicopter crew reporting at 6 p.m. that it had contacted Gough and Thompson, then dropping them off with Talkeetna troopers at 6:20 p.m.
“The pilot indicated he was intermittently switching on his 121.5 ELT, which is not something we recommend,” said Senior Master Sgt. Robert Carte, the RCC’s superintendent. “It’s important that pilots leave the ELT on so rescuers have a better chance at locating them. In the case of a 121.5 ELT, it can cause a significant delay when rescue aircraft don’t have a constant signal to focus on.”
Carte also notes delays in the rescue effort caused by the plane’s older 121.5 MHz model of ELT, which transmits radio signals to passing aircraft. Echoing comments on the Guard’s Sunday rescue of pilot Ron Brooks from a crash southwest of Fairbanks, Carte says a newer satellite-based 406 MHz transmitter would have offered faster, more reliable information to rescuers.
Troopers say the PA-12 received significant damage in the crash, which has been passed on to the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board for investigation.
Contact Chris Klint