Skaguay Alaskan newsies Sierra Moran and Aaron Kilburn take a break at the Mercantile after a hard morning on the docks handing out visitor guides. Photo by Dimitra Lavrakas
New evidence found
Log entry may provide clues to missing B.C. hiker, bones most likely goat
By DIMITRA LAVRAKAS
He was a seasoned outdoorsman, but something happened to him here last year on Sept. 26. Bryan Gay, 28, of Montrose, British Columbia, took a hike to Upper Lake and was never seen again.
For five days, the Skagway Search and Rescue team, 30 volunteers, TEMSCO Helicopters, and several search dog teams looked for him and turned up no clues.
Recently, two local hikers went to the Upper Lake cabin and found an entry in the log book made on the day he disappeared. The date was prominent, but the ink in the pen had run out and his name and message were merely indentations something that could be seen only in a particular light.
"Nice lake, beautiful view, my damn pen ran out of ink, it read, said his father, Milton Gay, by phone from his home in Montrose.
This was the first, and so far, only confirmed clue found.
We looked at it around the date Bryan Gay disappeared, but nobody could see what he wrote because the ink had run out, said Skagway SAR planning and operations chief Wayne Greenstreet. So we knew he had been up there, that was the first evidence we had seen that he had hiked up there, besides the testimony of the people at the youth hostel.
Milton returned to Skagway this July with Bryans sister, brother and friend and searched the area again.
We searched the glacier above Dewey Lake and searched up above the Devils Shute, above the pipeline (Goat Lake pipeline) up towards the Canadian border, and also searched the other end of Pitchfork Falls and the AB trail, Milton said.
While Greenstreet said the area had been searched very well before, SAR re-searched the area again on July 21, especially the boulder field south-southwest of Devils Punchbowl.
This was the most difficult terrain in which to search: each jumbled moraine cave, some up to 10 feet deep, had to be looked into, and snow fields still dotted the landscape.
We concentrated on an area that was difficult to search and had gotten the least amount of search time, and we found some possible evidence and turned it over to the State Troopers, Greenstreet said.
The Trooperss Office in Haines verified that bones had been found, but they were still at the Skagway Police Department, because the Medical Examiners Office in Anchorage was trying to find someone nearby to determine if they were human bones. No clothing was found with the bones.
Acting Medical Examiner Frank Fallico said his office tries to find other experts to make those determinations because of the case load in his office.
Tuesday they could not find anyone in Southeast to make that determination and so the bones were sent to Anchorage.
Were about 90 percent sure these are goat bones, said Greg Wilkenson, spokesperson for the Troopers, by phone. To verify that, they have been sent up to the state Medical Examiners Office to determine whether they are goat bones or human bones.
An article last year in the Gays local paper in British Columbia intimated that SAR had not done its job well and that local officials were uncaring, but Milton said he did not agree.
The SAR has been great, we didnt know what she had written until it came out, Milton said. They are a caring bunch of people, and the TEMSCO Helicopters pilots Chris and Jesse were wonderful ... I feel we did owe them an apology. All the people in Skagway this year really treated us well.
He also wanted to thank Sandy Grunow at Sgt. Prestons Lodge for her kindness when they stayed at the lodge last year.
The Gays contributed $3,000 to the Skagway Volunteer Fire Department in July, earmarked for SAR.
But throughout all the searching, the year of silence, the heartache of the family continues.
Milton said hes not too sure that Bryans on the mountain, but hes satisfied now the family has tried everything it could to find him.
Plane crash near Haines kills 6
Flightseeing trip from Skagway over Glacial Bay National Park and Preserve turns fatal
Nurse Jim Jurrens of Bartlett Regional Hospital and Steve Lewis of Juneau Mountain Rescue inspect the crash at Davidson Glacier. Photo courtesy the Alaska State Troopers
By JENNIFER COLLINS
A sightseeing planes six occupants died when it slammed into a rocky face and plummeted to the Davidson Glacier, near Haines, July 30, a National Transportation Safety Board investigator said.
The LAB plane was on a 90-minute flight seeing tour of the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve when it crashed above the 5,000 foot glacier, NTSB investigator Clint Johnson said.
Its likely there were some violation of FAA standards, Federal Aviation Association investigator Terry Gordon said. Airman competency is certainly a question.
The collision killed four German tourists, a tour guide and the pilot aboard the Cherokee Six, Alaska State Trooper spokesman, Greg Wilkinson said.
The plane departed from Skagway at 2:02 p.m. and was reported an hour overdue at 4:30, Wilkinson said.
A second plane, carrying passengers with the same tour group, elected to take another route because of low clouds, Johnson said. The second pilot returned safely to Skagway, he said.
It was a nice day for South East conditions or standards, just the area over the glacier the clouds were low, Johnson said.
National Weather Service Forecaster, Paul Shannon said the cloud ceiling in Haines was six to 7,000 feet and the cloud ceiling Gustavus was three to 4,000 feet. Thus, the cloud ceiling over the 5,300 foot peak above the glacier was zero to 1,800 feet at most.
The way the clouds move, they often tend to lie over those valleys, Shannon said, suggesting the clouds tend hang low over the glaciers.
FAA standards dictate planes must fly 500 feet above the ground with a 1000 foot cloud ceiling, Gordon said. Airman competency and violation of FAA standards are two items on a long list that will examined in the NTSB causal report, which will be released in 6 months to a year, he said. The preliminary NTSB report, usually released five days after the investigation, was not available at press time.
Anytime you fly into a cloud, you loose all your visibility and orientation, Shannon said.
Small tour planes do not have the sophisticated radar systems that allow them to navigate in zero visibility, said Steve Lewis of Juneau Mountain Rescue. He was dispatched with the rescue team to the accident at 6:30 p.m. July 30.
The team which included a nurse and four others located the crash at 7:15 p.m.
The airplane is definitely very crunched up, Lewis said. The wings are still attached but the engine was ejected.
Two people were ejected from the plane but none survived, he said.
Rescue crews extinguished a small fire in the wreckage and anchored the plane and the bodies to the ice, Lewis said.
The rescue team returned with Johnson and Alaska State Trooper Matt Hightower to investigate the accident when the weather cleared Aug. 1.
Lewis and Johnson hiked up the peak north of the glacier and approximated where the plane hit.
A couple 100 feet to the left, they probably would have cleared it, Lewis said. But its kind of like a car accident. If I was only in the other lane, I wouldnt have hit him.
The propeller had detached from the plane on impact. The plane initially fell about 100 feet, caught on a ledge and slid about 800 feet to the glacier, Johnson said.
When they finished inspecting the crash site, the rescuers radioed the Blackhawk helicopter to come from where it landed nearby. However, the starter failed and two Juneau-based commercial helicopters evacuated the team, Lewis said.
Juneau Mountain Rescue members returned Aug. 2 to repair the helicopter and remove the bodies from the crash site, Lewis said.
The plane is still on the glacier and LABs insurance company will inspect and remove it in the next few weeks, Johnson said.
The pilot was identified as Chad Beer, 26, of Juneau. Beer is survived by six-year-old son and his fiancee, who is pregnant with his child. LABs director, Peggy Ormasen had no comment on the crash, but said (LAB would start an account for donations for the pilots fiancee.)
The tour guide was Marianne Cederberg, 55, of Richmond, British Columbia. Cederberg worked for the Toronto-based Jonview Tour Company.
The tourists were Siegrid Kahlbohm, 65, and Uwe Kahlbohm, 59, of Bremerhaven, Wilkinson said. Helmut Auer, 63, of Baden-Wurtemberg, and Martin Fenderhofer, 61, of Hamburg were also killed. Auer and Fenderhofers ages were provided by Bill Wilkerson, manager of the Alaska Funeral Home.
The pilots body was autopsied by the state medical examiner. All the bodies will be cremated and returned to their families, Wilkerson said.
It was LAB's fourth serious accident since 1995, according to the Chilkat Valley News and Juneau Empire. Six died in a crash in 1995 above Pyramid Harbor near Haines. A 1996 crash on Davidson Glacier seriously injured two passengers. And two died in 1997 on a flight that crashed on Admiralty Island. Prior to 1995, the airline had only one fatal crash in its 45-year history.
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