Frigid wind hinders recovery team after Southwest Alaska plane crash that killed 5

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By Morgan Krakow Alaska Dispatch News, Anchorage (TNS)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Frigid wind chills Friday on the Southwest Alaska tundra blocked attempts to reach the wreckage of a Yute Commuter Service plane crash that killed five people Thursday, troopers said.

The plane’s pilot and four passengers died in the crash 12 miles south of Tuntutuliak, troopers said Thursday night. The plane had left Bethel and was headed to Kipnuk, about 100 miles southwest of Bethel.

The air service on Friday afternoon identified the pilot as Tony Matthews. Yute’s general manager, Nathan McCabe, told KYUK that Matthews was “a very happy, enthusiastic person. All I can say to be honest with you is he’s a great man, happy, a great worker. I couldn’t ask for anyone better.”

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The wreckage of the Piper PA-32 was located at 1:50 p.m. Thursday after troopers were informed it was overdue.

An Army National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter was dispatched out of Bethel, said Candis Olmstead, the National Guard’s director of public affairs. Rescuers, including a trooper and two LifeMed Alaska medics, were on the scene at 4:15 p.m., Olmstead said.

On Friday, Alaska State Troopers were attempting to get back to the scene and move forward with recovery efforts. The scene is accessible only by snowmachine and air, according to Tim DeSpain, a public information officer with the troopers. The wreckage is in an area of flat, snow-covered tundra, said Clinton Johnson, chief of the Alaska Regional Office of the NTSB.

“They’re making every safe possible attempt that they can,” DeSpain said.

Wind chills were around 40 below zero Friday, he said.

Noreen Price, an investigator from the National Transportation Safety Board, was on her way to Bethel Friday morning from Anchorage to begin investigating the crash, Johnson said. In Bethel, she’ll coordinate with state troopers on investigations and recovery efforts, Johnson said.

A meteorologist from the NTSB is gathering archived weather information, Johnson said.

The plane’s wreckage will likely be taken to Bethel or Anchorage, Johnson said. NTSB investigations of this nature tend to take a year to 18 months, Johnson said.

Yute is a commuter airline based in Bethel, according to the company’s website, and flies throughout the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

In April of last year, a Yute charter flight on its way to Bethel from Aniak crashed and four people aboard the plane were uninjured, according to a troopers report. In November, a Yute pilot was uninjured after a crash in Goodnews Bay, about 115 miles south of Bethel, according to KYUK.

McCabe said Yute is offering counseling to its staff and gave workers the day off Friday while canceling all flights.

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