UPDATE: Pilot, plane found southwest of Merrill Pass early Thursday afternoon

Oct 31, 2016

On the 6th day of search, David McRae and his Pilatus Porter found during a brief window of clearer weather at an altitude of 6500 feet.

Credit NPS Photo / Chuck Lindsay

UPDATE, November 3, 2016:

After six days, missing pilot David McRae and his plane have finally been found. Lieutenant Colonel Candis Olmstead directs public affairs for the Alaska National Guard.

"The rescue teams from the 176th Wing, Alaska Air National Guard have been trying to get into the area for about six days now," says Olmstead,  "And they continued to get as close as they could and were continuing to wait for weather to clear for a safer search closer to where they thought the wreckage was. And today weather did clear enough actually so the Civil Air Patrol was able to help with the search and it ended up being the CAP who initially spotted the wreckage.

McRae and his plane, a single engine Pilatus Porter, were found at an altitude of 6500 feet inside the Lake Clark National Park. He had been flying from Lake Hood to Lake Clark through Merrill Pass Friday evening when his plane went down. Colonel Olmstead says pararescue men were able to get to the site and retrieve the pilot's remains.

His next of kin were notified. Weather had hampered search efforts since last weekend. 55 year old McRae was a longtime and respected bush pilot. The Alaska Dispatch News reported he was flying a load of fuel to his aunt former first lady Bella Hammond, who lives in a lodge home on Lake Clark.


UPDATE, November 2, 2016:

It’s been six since Anchorage pilot David McRae’s plane went down in Lake Clark National Park. With a window of slightly better weather this morning, the Alaska Air National Guard continued search efforts by helicopter and C-130. Friend and fellow pilot Glen Alsworth from nearby Port Alsworth has been monitoring the search for McRae closely, which he says has been constantly hampered by foul weather.

"The way the low pressure is set up in the Bering Sea side and the high pressures to the east, it's streaming that warm wet air from the Gulf of Alaska right up across the Alaska range where it is cooling and turning into fog and snow. And it's been accompanied by high winds as well," Alsworth explains.

McRae’s plane is believed to have gone down in a mountainous area along the Merrill Pass route between Anchorage and Lake Clark. An emergency beacon from the plane indicated an altitude of about 5000 feet, and the search radius has been narrowed to approximately one mile. But hope of finding McRae alive fades with each new day of poor weather.

"It's quite unusual that it's such a long time the weather has stayed in this same pattern. It's very unfortunate. We need a break so we can give the search and rescue folks a chance to even access this site," says Alsworth.

McRae was flying a load of fuel to his aunt Bella Hammond’s lakeside lodge Friday went his plane apparently went down. He has deep ties to the Bristol Bay region, and is a highly respected pilot. Alsworth has known him for years.

"David Mcrae's just a fine gentlemen, has always been very careful, very measured in his decisions," Alsworth says. "He's always been just extremely responsible and careful in all the interfacing I've ever had with him."

McRae is believed to have been the only person on board the single engine Pilatus Porter.  The National Transportation Safety Board says it will be investigating the crash.


ORIGINAL REPORT, October 31, 2016:

The search continues for a plane and pilot, missing since Friday, in the Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. 55-year-old David McRae, of Anchorage, was en route from Lake Hood to a lodge on Lake Clark when his single engine Pilatus Porter apparently went down. After a weekend of poor weather that hampered search efforts, National Park spokesperson John Quinley says a helicopter crew was able to begin a better effort this morning.

“Today the reports are that visibility is better—seems like fewer clouds, less cloud cover,” says Quinley. “I think there’s some optimism that this might give the Alaska National Guard helicopter crew the window they need to get in into the elevation 5000 foot area and really be able to give a thorough search.”

The C-130 aircraft that rescue crews were using this weekend in addition to the helicopter is grounded today for maintenance.

McRae’s emergency locator transmitter went off Friday but did not transmit full coordinates. The last known location was at 5000 feet in an area of rugged, mountainous terrain.

“Merrill Pass is one of a handful of passes that allow smaller aircraft to get from the Cook Inlet side to the West side of those mountains,” Quinley says, “And the search area is south of South of Merrill Pass and toward Telaquana Lake. And it’s just been a foul weather weekend for trying to run a search.”

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash, but Clint Johnson, NTSB’s Alaska chief, says that rescue efforts take precedence right now.

“Our hopes are that we find this airplane, hopefully within the next couple of days or as soon as possible.”

McRae is believed to have been the only person on board the plane. The Alaska Dispatch News reported he was flying a load of fuel to his aunt, former Alaska first lady Bella Hammond.

Contact the author: avery@kdlg.org.