Investigators: Cause of Alaska plane crash unknown

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Federal responders said Monday it was too early to know what caused a commuter plane to crash in remote southwest Alaska, killing four people and injuring another six on board.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash Friday of the Hageland Aviation Cessna 208 turboprop a mile southeast of the village of Saint Marys.

“We’re still very much in the very formative stages of the investigation,” said Clint Johnson, chief of the NTSB’s Alaska regional office. Investigators interviewed one of the survivors on Sunday and were hoping to interview two more on Monday, Johnson said.

Pilot Terry Hansen, 68, of Bethel and passengers Rose Polty, 57; Richard Polty, 65; and a 5-month-old infant, Wyatt Coffee, died in the crash. The baby’s 25-year-old mother, Melanie Coffee, made a frantic call for help resuscitating her fatally injured child then walked nearly a mile to lead searchers hampered by cold and fog to the crash site.

National Weather Service meteorologist Sam Albanese said an observation station at Saint Marys showed visibility at three miles and a 300-foot ceiling around the time of the crash.

Along with Melanie Coffee, who sustained chest trauma, the other survivors are Pauline Johnson, 37; Kylan Johnson, 14; Tanya Lawrence, 35; Garrett Moses, 30; and Shannon Lawrence, authorities said.

Five of the survivors were listed in fair condition Monday at Anchorage hospitals. Kylan Johnson was treated and released from Providence Alaska Medical Center, hospital spokeswoman Ginger Houghton said.

All of the passengers were from Mountain Village.

Investigators with the NTSB and the Federal Aviation Administration arrived Sunday at the wreckage site, 470 miles west of Anchorage. Clint Johnson said the goal is to document the wreckage before moving the plane to Anchorage or Bethel.

The Cessna left Bethel at 5:40 p.m. Friday on a scheduled flight to Mountain Village and eventually Saint Marys. It never made it to Mountain Village.

Saint Marys, like scores of other Alaska villages, 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.

Hageland Aviation is part of the Era Group that includes Era Aviation.

Era spokesman Steve Smith said the company is providing air and ground transportation to families of survivors so they can be with them in Anchorage. The company also is working on funeral arrangements.

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