Sitka, AK Chartered Plane Crash, Sep 1988


One person was killed and nine were injured Monday afternoon when a chartered twin-engine plane crashed in a high mountain ice-field just south of Sitka.
The Wrangell Air Service plane went down only minutes after takeoff from the Sitka Airport with a load of softball players returning to Petersburg from a weekend tournament here.
Authorities said the plane appeared to have crashed making a forced landing on a small ice-field near Indigo Lake, at the 3,000-foot level on Baranof Island about four miles east of Silver Bay.
One of the passengers, STEVEN K. O'NEIL, 35, of Petersburg, who was sitting in the co-pilot seat of the Britain Norman Islander aircraft, was killed in the crash.
The most seriously injured, pilot DAVID G. TATOM of Wrangell, and a passenger, SHIRLEY METHANY, 51, of Petersburg, were evacuated early today to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, and were reported in stable condition today.
Others were being treated today in Sitka Community and Mt. Edgecumbe Hospitals, while others were released after examination at the hospitals.
One of the passengers, DEBBY L. SCHELSKE, 36, of Petersburg, said there was no warning of any difficulty prior to the crash. SCHELSKE, who escaped without injury, said she was sitting in the rear of the plane, where the other less-seriously injured passengers were sitting.
The time of the crash was estimated at 1:44 p.m., said the Sitka Police Department.
The FAA was notified when the plane was overdue at Petersburg, and Sitka Fire Chief Gerry Helland said the pilot of an airliner passing overhead reported around 2:45 p.m. that he had picked up an Emergency Locator Transmitter signal near Sitka.
The Coast Guard was notified, and Arnie Johnson, operator of Mountain Aviation flying service, was dispatched in his helicopter to retrace the route of the Wrangell plane.
Within an hour after the ELT report, Johnson radioed in the first report of the crash as he returned from the crash site with three of the injured survivors. He made several more trips to the scene, taking up three Sitka rescue workers and bringing back more survivors.
A Coast Guard helicopter also responded, taking Sitka Fire Department Rescue Captain Greg MacDonald and another EMT person and emergency equipment to the scene. The Coast Guard later returned with several of the injured, and later recovered O'NEILL'S body and rescue personnel.
Fire Department volunteers responded to the all out call that was issued when the crash was reported, said Helland. Both Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital and Sitka Community Hospital put their disaster plans into effect, calling in all off-duty medical personnel.
MacDonald said the first four survivors were taken to Sitka Community Hospital and the remaining survivors were taken to Mt. Edgecumbe.
He said rescuers had to use a hydraulic rescue tool called the Jaws of Life to free SHIRLEY MATHENY from the wreckage.

"We had to make sure the plane was stable and that nothing was going to give way abruptly," he said.
MacDonald said he and Johnson operated the metal bending tool while MATHENY, despite her injuries, assisted by pulling herself up by a bar over her head.
Finally, workers were able to get a backboard under the injured woman and lift her out through holes they cut in the fuselage.

Daily Sitka Sentinel Alaska 1988-09-06