ANCHORAGE, Alaska — After phoning for help in resuscitating her baby, a 25-year-old woman on a plane that crashed in remote southwest Alaska led searchers hampered by cold and fog to the crash site.
The single-engine aircraft carrying 10 people went down Friday night near the village of Saint Marys, killing four people and injured six.
Melanie Coffee of Mountain Village walked nearly a mile toward lights in the village to meet rescuers.
“I believe she’s the real hero in this,” said Saint Marys Village Police Officer Fred Lamont Jr., one of the dozens from his community and surrounding villages who responded to the crash.
Federal investigators on Sunday started documenting the wreckage of a plane crash in remote southwest Alaska that killed four people and injured six Friday night.
A break in weather conditions allowed two investigators — from the National Transportation Safety Board and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration — on Sunday to reach the scene where a single-engine aircraft went down near the village of Saint Marys, said Clint Johnson, the chief of the NTSB’s Alaska regional office.
“The goal is to document the wreckage at the accident site to the best of their ability, and be able to talk to witnesses,” Johnson said Sunday afternoon.
He added that “it’s way too early to draw any conclusions” about what cause the accident.
Investigators will be at the site for at least a day, possibly two, collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses, Johnson said. Another NTSB investigator in Anchorage also is hoping to interview survivors of the crash, he said.
The Hageland Aviation Cessna 208 crashed at around 6:30 p.m. Friday four miles from Saint Marys. It left Bethel on a scheduled flight for Mountain Village and eventually Saint Marys but never reached Mountain Village.
The airplane would have been flying in freezing rain with a mile of visibility and a 300-foot ceiling, a spokeswoman for the Alaska State Troopers has said.
Johnson said the plane was equipped with an advanced electronic locator transmitter that went off on impact and sent a satellite signal with GPS coordinates alerting officials to the accident.
Coffee, who suffered chest trauma, tried whistling to alert searchers, Lamont said. She considered starting a fire to get their attention but eventually decided to start walking toward village lights. A GCI communications tower with a red strobe led her three-quarters of a mile to the village landfill.
“That’s where everyone found her,” Lamont said.
She led searchers back to the crash site. It was not accessible by snowmobile. Rescuers put the injured on stretchers and carried them out on foot to the landfill where they could be transported by ambulance to the village and then flown out.
Saint Marys has about 500 people and is located 470 miles west of Anchorage. Like many Alaska villages, it is off the state road system. People routinely use small aircraft to reach regional hubs where they can catch another plane to complete trips to Anchorage or other cities.
Pilot Terry Hansen, 68, passengers Rose Polty, 57, Richard Polty, 65, and a 5-month-old infant, Wyatt Coffee, died in the crash.
The survivors included the baby’s mother, Coffee, 25, Pauline Johnson, 37, Kylan Johnson, 14, Tanya Lawrence, 35, Garrett Moses, 30, and Shannon Lawrence.
The survivors were taken to Anchorage hospitals. Five of them were reported in fair condition Saturday, the Anchorage Daily News reported Sunday. The sixth, Tanya Lawrence, was in serious condition, said a spokesperson for Providence Alaska Medical Center.