September 28, 2004
An official from the Anchorage Federal Aviation Administration notified the Coast Guard Monday, Sept. 20 at 1:40 p.m. of an overdue Harris Air Beaver float plane with five people on board. Air Station Sitka Jayhawk helicopter crews dispatched to search for the missing plane's occupants.
The missing individuals are identified as Jim Murphy of Sequim, Wash; twin brother Joe Murphy of Bremerton, Wash; Jerry Balmer of Auburn, Calif, Lloyd Koenig of Pleasanton, Calif (previously, incorrectly identified as Dick Conig) and the pilot, Eric Johnson of Sitka.
Aircrews completed searches from Sitka to Baranof Warm Spring Bay and through the most likely routes the pilot may have flown the aircraft to reach its destination. Other searches examined the shoreline, nearby forest areas, Kruzof Island, Salisbury Sound, Chatham Strait, Peril Strait, Takatz Bay, Point Elizabeth, Rodman Bay, and Ushk Bay to Hoonah Sound. Search crews found no sign of the people or aircraft.
As of Monday morning, Air Station Sitka aircrew flight times total more than 75 hours. The Coast Guard is using all of its available crews and aircraft, including night vision equipment and forward looking infrared, to find the plane's occupants in a vast search area.
"We're pushing our search and rescue crews and equipment to extremes in hopes of finding these missing folks and returning them to their loved ones," said Coast Guard Capt. Michael Kendall, 17th Coast Guard District Chief of Search and Rescue in Juneau. "Despite the inclement weather conditions that have made searching more difficult, our Coast Guard crews supplemented by the National Guard, Civil Air Patrol, Alaska State Troopers, Sitka Fire Department, and a host of other Good Samaritans, continue to comb the area searching for clues." In fact, since last Monday, combined search efforts have covered an area comparative to searching the state of Rhode Island three times".
While searching on Sunday, an aircrew spotted a break in the tree-line near Takatz Bay. However, further examination of this sighting did not produce any results. Also on Sunday, a Sitka Fire Department dive team examined an area with underwater cameras in Deadman's Reach where searchers earlier located an oil sheen. The dive team's search did not locate the source of the oil.
Along with Air Station Sitka, CAP, Harris Air, Angoon Search and Rescue, and Good Samaritans resumed the search Monday morning, Coast Guard cutter Maple crewmembers will search the area where searchers found the oil sheen, in Deadman's Reach, with side scan sonar equipment.
Sitka's weather Monday included an air temperature of 54 degrees Fahrenheit, 25 mile-per-hour winds and nine miles of visibility. The seas were measured at 15 feet with overcast skies.
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