UPDATE: Coast Guard suspends search for overdue Guardian Flight aircraft
Guardian Flight released a statement Thursday night following the suspension of a U.S. Coast Guard search for the company's missing aircraft and the three team members who were on board at the time it seemingly disappeared.
"We appreciate the huge efforts from the Coast Guard, other organizations and the community to find the aircraft and crew," wrote Randy Lyman of Guardian Flight. "While the formal search and rescue effort has been discontinued and we recognize the gravity of the situation, we will continue efforts to recover our friends in order to hopefully reunite them with their beloved families.
"Our hearts are heavy," Lyman continued, "and we respectfully offer our deepest thoughts and prayers to our lost employees and their families. We will miss Pilot Patrick Coyle, Flight Nurse Stacie Rae Morse, and Flight Paramedic Margaret Langston."
The Coast Guard has suspended the search for an overdue Guardian Flight aircraft near Kake.
According to a release from the U.S. Coast Guard 17th District, the search was suspended at 5:30 p.m. Thursday after 63 hours spanning 240 square nautical miles.
Debris that appears to be from the flight was located in the search area Wednesday, but no additional debris was found Wednesday night or Thursday.
“Suspending a search for any reason is one of the most difficult decisions we have to make,” said Capt. Stephen White, Sector Juneau commander in the statement. “This was an extensive search effort in some very challenging conditions. We are thankful for the assistance from the search and rescue teams, Alaska State Troopers, Army Air National Guard and good Samaritans.”
The company operating the medical transport plane that went missing on the way to Kake says that it has a "strong indication" that wreckage, discovered Wednesday, belonged to the missing plane.
Though authorities and volunteers alike are continuing search efforts Thursday, Randy Lyman, Senior Vice President of Operations with Guardian Flight, issued a statement breaking bad news.
"The debris found by searchers unfortunately gives us a very strong indication that it was our airplane," Lyman said in a statement. "While search and rescue efforts are continuing in an attempt to find survivors, we are resigned to accept that the aircraft was ours."
The plane itself, a King Air 200 air ambulance, went missing with three people on board, Pilot Patrick Coyle, 63, Flight Nurse Stacie Rae Morse, 30, and Flight Paramedic Margaret Langston, 43, all based in Juneau.
Jim Gregory, a spokesperson for the company said that Coyle had worked at the company for four years, Morse for three years and Langston for three years.
Coyle's partner Toni Marinelli said they had been friends for 20 years, before getting together. She says he is a wonderful man, who is well loved.
The two of them flew across Alaska and Canada in a small plane that he built. Marinelli says Coyle's family is already planning a memorial and celebration of life in Pennsylvania
"Pat was a very patient pilot, and respectful of conditions," wrote friend and colleague Eric Christman. "Also, he was a great instructor, never holding back acquired knowledge."
Across at Bartlett Regional Hospital, community relations director Katie Bausler, said that Staci Morse worked part-time in the emergency department for the past three years.
Bausler explained that many nurses work part-time at the hospital and part-time medically evacuating passengers from Southeast Alaska communities that don't have road access.
A vital service for the area, the hospital sees between 20 and 30 medevacs a month that go through the hospital to Seattle and Anchorage.
"It allows us to deliver a higher level of care for heart attacks, and strokes, or trauma, we can get them out of here quickly," said Bausler. She added that the hospital is a tight-knit community and that "when something like this happens, everybody is affected."
The flight carrying Coyle, Morse and Langston left Anchorage on the way to the Southeast Alaska community of Kake when the twin-engine aircraft failed to arrive.
The Coast Guard said Wednesday evening that debris from a plane had been found about 22-miles west of Kake, but officials could not confirm Thursday if it's from the missing plane or not.
Commander Michael Kale with the Coast Guard in Juneau said crews were still searching for survivors ahead of increasingly bad weather. He continued, adding that search efforts would continue until the people are located or "that we've given it our best effort to locate them in that search area."
Despite this, Lyman issued a statement about the strong opinion that the wing and other debris does belong to their missing aircraft. He ended the message with a word of support.
"We continue to ask for everyone’s prayers and support as we focus on families, crew members and the entire Guardian Flight team and extended family of all those involved," he wrote.
Gregory could not confirm the status of the patient that the plane was traveling to pick up in Kake due to federal privacy laws.