Alaska Archives:

FAIRBANKS, ALASKA (BNO NEWS) — Two Australian citizens were killed on early Wednesday evening when their small plane crashed in the U.S. state of Alaska during severe weather conditions, state troopers said on Friday. There were no survivors and the cause was not immediately known.

The accident occurred at around 6:54 p.m. local time on Wednesday when the Piper PA32 aircraft disappeared from radar about 39 miles (62 kilometers) north of Fairbanks, the capital of Fairbanks North Star Borough and the second largest city in the state. The aircraft was carrying two people.

“Two individuals were found to be deceased inside the wreckage which was burning,” a spokesperson for the Alaska State Troopers said on Friday. “Due to the deteriorating weather conditions, late hours and the fire on scene, it was determined that recovery efforts would be attempted on Thursday if weather allowed.”

A helicopter arrived in Fairbanks at 9 a.m. local time on Thursday, but poor weather conditions in the mountainous area have continued to hamper the recovery effort. It was not immediately clear when rescue workers would be able to recover the remains, or when the wreckage will be removed.

Troopers identified the victims as pilot Stephen Knight, 64, and passenger Gillian Knight, 60, both of Queensland in Australia. They were traveling from Fort Yukon to Fairbanks, a flight covering more than 140 miles (225 kilometers). “Next of kin has been notified,” the spokesperson added.

The cause of the accident was not immediately known, but is being investigated by both the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

Earlier this month, businesswoman and former Alaska state legislator Cheryll Heinze was killed when a float plane carrying five members of Matanuska Electric Association (MEA)’s management team crashed at Beluga Lake near a small airport in Homer, a city about 122 miles (197 kilometers) southwest of Anchorage. The others survived the accident.

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ANCHORAGE, ALASKA (BNO NEWS) — Businesswoman and former Alaska state legislator Cheryll Heinze was killed on late Tuesday evening when a float plane crashed in a lake near an airport in Homer, state troopers said on Wednesday. Four other people survived the crash.

The accident occurred at around 10:40 p.m. local time on Tuesday when the single-engine Cessna 206 went down at Beluga Lake near a small airport in Homer, a city about 122 miles (197 kilometers) southwest of Anchorage. The aircraft was carrying five members of Matanuska Electric Association (MEA)’s management team.

“A Trooper responded to the scene. Homer Police Department and Homer Fire Department were contacted and a rescue boat was launched to rescue the individuals on board,” a spokesperson for the Alaska State Troopers said on Wednesday. The pilot, identified as 71-year-old MEA CEO Evan “Joe” Griffith, was attempting to land at the lake.

It was not immediately known what caused the accident.

The five people on board the aircraft were rescued from the aircraft but Heinze, who was critically injured after being trapped inside the submerged aircraft, succumbed to her injuries while being transported to a local hospital. The four other people were not believed to be seriously injured.

Heinze, 65, was employed at MEA as the director of Human Resources and Public Affairs. She previously served one term in the Alaska State Legislature representing Anchorage from 2003 to 2004. She also served as a deputy commissioner for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources and belonged to many organizations including the Alaska Chamber of Commerce, Anchorage Symphony League and Breast Cancer Focus, Inc.

Alaska Governor Sean Parnell said he and his wife were saddened to learn of Heinze’s passing. “She was a dedicated legislator who cared deeply for Alaska. Our thoughts and prayers are with her husband, Harold, her family, colleagues and friends,” he said in a statement released from his office.

Parnell also ordered state flags to fly at half-staff on Friday in honor and memory of Heinze.

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ANCHORAGE, ALASKA (BNO NEWS) — The aircraft wreckage which was found on a glacier near Anchorage earlier this month is believed to be a plane which went missing in the 1950s with more than 50 people on board, military officials said on Wednesday. Possible human remains have been recovered.

Captain Jamie Dobson, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Joint Prisoners Of War/Missing In Action Accounting Command (JPAC) at the U.S. Department of Defense, said some evidence at the wreckage site is directly linked to a C-124 Globemaster aircraft which disappeared in the region in November 1952.

“Some of the evidence at the wreckage site has been positively correlated to the United States Air Force G-124 Globemaster that crashed in 1952,” Dobson said. “We are still not eliminating other possibilities but we do know at this point that some of the evidence that we are looking at is directly connected to that flight.”

The cargo plane, which was the largest in use by the U.S. Air Force in 1952, went missing on a flight from McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma, Washington, to Elmendorf Air Force Base near Anchorage. Last contact with the plane came as it flew through dense fog over Middleton Island in the Gulf of Alaska, about 160 miles (257 kilometers) southeast of Anchorage.

The aircraft was carrying 41 passengers and 11 crew members, including pilot Captain Kenneth J. Duval, 37, of Vallejo, California, and co-pilot Captain Alger M. Cheney, 32, of Lubeck, Maine. The plane’s wreckage was found days later on Mount Gannett with no signs of survivors, but weather made a recovery operation impossible. The aircraft was abandoned and later searches failed to locate the wreckage.

Now nearly 60 years later, the wreckage was discovered on June 10 by the crew of an Alaskan Army National Guard helicopter when it was flying low over an area near Knik, a glacier on the northern end of the Chugach Mountains and about 40 miles (64 kilometers) northeast of Anchorage. The helicopter was on a routine training mission when it discovered the wreckage.

After an additional search-and-rescue mission by Joint Task Force-Alaska and the Alaska National Guard, military officials determined the aircraft was an old military plane. But officials were unable to identify the plane, resulting in the deployment of a specialized investigative team from JPAC.

Dobson said the team collected evidence at the site, including life-support equipment, personal effects, and possible osseous remains. “We’ve recovered as much evidence from the site as we were able to and needed to to go forward with an identification,” she said. “There is a possibility that further evidence could surface.”

Officials have described the wreckage site as long and linear. “It was thousands of feet. Possibly 2,000 feet (609 meters) long and a couple of hundred feet (meters) wide,” Dobson said.

Over the last decades, dozens of military planes have gone missing in the area of Knik Glacier. “The whole history is riddled with searches for planes that never came home,” Alaska aviation historian Ted Spencer told the Anchorage Daily News earlier this month. “Planes of all types, and they started disappearing when Alaska became an aviation-oriented place. It’s so vast.”

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ANCHORAGE, ALASKA (BNO NEWS) — A specialized military team has completed its on-site investigation of the wreckage of a vintage military aircraft which was discovered on a glacier near Anchorage earlier this month, officials said on Tuesday. The aircraft remains unidentified.

The wreckage was discovered on June 10 by the crew of an Alaskan Army National Guard helicopter when it was flying low over an area near Knik, a glacier on the northern end of the Chugach Mountains and about 40 miles (64 kilometers) northeast of Anchorage. The helicopter was on a routine training mission when it discovered the wreckage.

After an additional search-and-rescue mission by Joint Task Force-Alaska and the Alaska National Guard, military officials determined the aircraft is a vintage military plane. But officials were unable to identify the plane, resulting in the deployment of a specialized investigative team from the U.S. Joint Prisoners Of War/Missing In Action Accounting Command (JPAC).

The eight-man team touched down on the glacier on June 18 and initially planned to examine the site to provide an assessment for the follow-on recovery team, but they determined they could begin the recovery operation immediately. “The size of the site and deteriorating environmental conditions factored into the decision,” JPAC said in a statement on Tuesday.

The military team recovered material evidence, such as life support equipment from the wreckage, and also possible osseous remains from the glacier. The evidence will be transported to JPAC’s Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii in the hopes of identifying the remains and the aircraft.

Over the last decades, dozens of military planes have gone missing in the area of Knik Glacier. “The whole history is riddled with searches for planes that never came home,” Alaska aviation historian Ted Spencer told the Anchorage Daily News earlier this month. “Planes of all types, and they started disappearing when Alaska became an aviation-oriented place. It’s so vast.”

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KOTZEBUE, ALASKA (BNO NEWS) — A gunman opened fire at law enforcement officers in Alaska on Sunday morning, resulting in a nearly nine-hour-long standoff that resulted in the suspect’s death of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Two Alaska State Troopers were injured.

The incident began just after 9 a.m. local time when someone called 911 to report a vehicle had struck a guard rail in the city of Kotzebue, which is located at the end of the Baldwin Peninsula in the Northwest Arctic Borough of Alaska. The driver then allegedly pulled out a weapon and pointed it at a civilian who had driven by.

“Kotzebue troopers responded to back up the Kotzebue Police Department officer and were immediately shot at from the vehicle by the suspect,” an Alaska State Troopers spokesperson said. Two troopers were struck by the suspect’s gunfire, forcing the Kotzebue police officer to return fire although the suspect is not believed to have been hit.

The suspect remained barricaded in his vehicle throughout most of the day as the Southcentral Special Emergency Reaction Team (SERT), local police and troopers surrounded him. The situation remained mostly unchanged until approximately 6 p.m. local time when troopers were finally able to approach the vehicle.

The suspect, who has been identified as Arvid Nelson Jr. of Kotzebue, was found deceased inside the vehicle of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. It was not immediately clear why Nelson opened fire at the officers, but the Anchorage Daily News reported that he was known to have domestic problems.

One of the troopers who was struck during the exchange of fire was airlifted to a hospital in Anchorage, about 545 miles (878 kilometers) southeast of Kotzebue, and remained in a serious but stable condition on Sunday afternoon. The other trooper was treated and later released from the Kotzebue clinic.

Ralph Wien Memorial Airport in Kotzebue was shut down to non-emergency traffic during the standoff because the scene was near the airport’s active runway. The Anchorage Daily News reported that an Alaska Airlines flight from Anchorage to Nome and then to Kotzebue was grounded in Nome, leaving the 22 passengers stranded. Another 42 Alaska Airlines passengers were stranded in Kotzebue.

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KODIAK ISLAND, ALASKA (BNO NEWS) — The shooting deaths of two U.S. Coast Guard members at a communications station on Kodiak Island off Alaska are likely the result of a double homicide and not a murder-suicide, officials said on Friday. No arrests have been made yet.

Two U.S. Coast Guard members were found shot dead on Thursday at the Coast Guard Communications Station in Kodiak, the main city on Kodiak Island, which is separated from the Alaska mainland by the Shelikof Strait. The discovery prompted a precautionary lockdown at the base and nearby schools.

“The Coast Guard has been informed by the FBI that they are treating this investigation as a double homicide,” the Seventeenth District of the U.S. Coast Guard said in a brief statement on Friday, giving few other details. “There is no evidence to suggest these deaths are the result of a murder-suicide.”

The victims have been identified as Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class James Hopkins, an electronics technician, and Richard Belisle, a civilian employee and retired Coast Guard chief petty officer. “As an organization with roots in saving lives and a focus on protecting people, this tragic event has shocked us all,” said Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, commander of the district.

No arrests have been made as of Friday and authorities have advised all residents in Kodiak to use ‘reasonable safety precautions’ and to report any suspicious activity to local law enforcement. An FBI spokesman previously said there is no evidence to suggest the shootings are related to terrorism.

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KODIAK ISLAND, ALASKA (BNO NEWS) — Two members of the U.S. Coast Guard were found shot dead at a communications station on Kodiak Island off Alaska on Thursday, officials said, prompting a lockdown of the base and nearby schools.

A brief statement from the 17th District of the U.S. Coast Guard said two of its members were found shot dead at Coast Guard Communications Station Kodiak in Kodiak, the main city on Kodiak Island, which is separated from the Alaska mainland by the Shelikof Strait.

“It is possible that the suspect remains at large,” said Captain Jesse Moore, commanding officer of Coast Guard Base Support Unit Kodiak. “Since we don’t have all the details, we strongly advise that all Kodiak residents to remain vigilant and to report any suspicious activity to local law enforcement officials.”

Moore said the base and local schools remain on lockdown as a safety precaution until authorities have determined no threat exists. “We are deeply saddened that we lost two shipmates,” he said. “This is a rare occurrence and we are going to do everything possible to ensure we find out exactly what happened.”

The U.S. Coast Guard said it would release the names of the victims when next-of-kin notifications are complete. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of our lost shipmates and we will provide all the necessary support and guidance they need as they grieve their loved ones,” Moore said.

A spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which is involved in the investigation, said there was no immediate indication that the shootings are related to terrorism.

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WASILLA, ALASKA (BNO NEWS) — Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin on Wednesday evening announced she will not run for the White House during the upcoming presidential elections. It ends years of speculation.

Palin, who was U.S. Senator John McCain’s vice presidential nominee during the 2008 presidential elections, announced her decision in a letter sent to supporters. “After much prayer and serious consideration, I have decided that I will not be seeking the 2012 GOP (Republican) nomination for President of the United States,” she said.

The former governor said she believes she can be more effective in a ‘decisive role’ to help elect others into office, including the White House. “We need to continue to actively and aggressively help those who will stop the ‘fundamental transformation’ of our nation and instead seek the restoration of our greatness, our goodness and our constitutional republic based on the rule of law,” she said.

She added: “From the bottom of my heart I thank those who have supported me and defended my record throughout the years, and encouraged me to run for President. Know that by working together we can bring this country back – and as I’ve always said, one doesn’t need a title to help do it.”

Palin said she will continue to drive discussion for freedom and free markets, including in the race for the presidency. “In the coming weeks I will help coordinate strategies to assist in replacing the President, re-taking the Senate, and maintaining the House,” she said.

The former governor had been the focus of intense rumors for years about whether or not she would participate in the 2012 presidential elections. Late last year, Palin told the New York Times that she was seriously considering a run for the presidency.

She said: “I’m engaged in the internal deliberations candidly, and having that discussion with my family, because my family is the most important consideration here.” Asked by ABC’s Barbara Walters, Palin said she believed she would be able to beat incumbent president Barack Obama.

In the most recent Gallup polls about the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, Palin saw significant declines in the Positive Intensity Scores since late August. On Tuesday she had a score of 13, compared to Herman Cain’s 30.

The U.S. presidential elections are scheduled to be held on November 6, 2012. Obama is running for re-election and is expected to face strong opposition from the Republican party, which has numerous major candidates including Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas, and others.

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NEW YORK (BNO NEWS) — A strong earthquake in the Pacific Ocean on early Friday morning prompted a brief tsunami warning for Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, officials said. There were no reports of actual waves or casualties.

The 6.8-magnitude earthquake at 1.55 a.m. local time (1055 GMT) was centered about 27 miles (45 kilometers) southwest of Amukta Island, a small uninhabited island between the Fox Islands and the Andreanof Islands in the Aleutian Islands. It struck about 22.1 miles (35.5 kilometers) deep, making it a shallow earthquake, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

The USGS estimated that several hundred people may have felt very light shaking on nearby islands, but there were no reports of damage or casualties as the region is mostly uninhabited. The Alaska Earthquake Information Center (AEIC) measured the earthquake at a much lower 6.2 magnitude.

Because the earthquake was initially measured at 7.1 on the Richter scale, the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center issued a tsunami warning for coastal areas of Alaska from Unimak Pass to Amchitka Pass. Unimak Pass is 80 miles (128 kilometers) northeast of the Dutch Harbor, while Amchitka Pass is 125 miles (201 kilometers) west of Adak.

Residents in Atka, a town on the east side of Atka Island, briefly evacuated to higher ground when the tsunami warning was issued. When the warning was canceled an hour later, with no tsunami waves observed, residents returned home.

“No destructive tsunami has been recorded, and no tsunami danger exists along the coasts of the U.S. west coast states, Alaska, and British Columbia,” the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center said in a statement. “Local authorities can assume all clear upon receipt of this message.”

Four light aftershocks struck the region in the first few hours after the earthquake, with the strongest measuring 4.8 on the Richter scale. The others had magnitudes of 4.5, 4.5, and 4.3.

Earlier this year, on June 24, a powerful 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck 39 miles (64 kilometers) southwest of Amukta Island, a small uninhabited island between the Fox Islands and the Andreanof Islands in the Aleutian Islands. There were no casualties and no tsunamis were observed.

The sparsely populated region of Alaska, which sits on the so-called ‘Pacific Ring of Fire’, is occasionally struck by powerful earthquakes. Most notably, an enormous 9.2-magnitude earthquake struck north of Prince William Sound in Alaska on March 27, 1964, unleashing a tsunami which killed at least 143 people.

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AMUKTA PASS, ALASKA (BNO NEWS) — A powerful earthquake struck near an Alaskan island in the Pacific Ocean on Thursday evening, seismologists said, briefly prompting a tsunami warning for local coastlines.

The 7.2-magnitude earthquake at 6.09 p.m. local time (0309 GMT Friday) was centered about 39 miles (64 kilometers) southwest of Amukta Island, a small uninhabited island between the Fox Islands and the Andreanof Islands in the Aleutian Islands. It struck about 38.9 miles (62.6 kilometers) deep, making it a shallow earthquake, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

The Alaska Earthquake Information Center (AEIC) measured the strength of the earthquake at 6.6 on the Richter scale, significantly weaker than the USGS estimate. Seismological agencies often have different magnitudes during the first few hours after a major earthquake struck.

A seismologist at the USGS however said it did not expect to change its magnitude, although revisions are possible as more information comes in from stations around the world. “7.2, though, is a pretty good magnitude for now,” he said.

The agency further said no damage or casualties were expected from the earthquake itself as nearly all islands in the region are mostly uninhabited. The USGS said several hundred people may have felt light to moderate shaking, which would pose no threat.

Because initial readings put the magnitude of the earthquake at 7.4, the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center decided to issue a tsunami warning for the coastal areas of Alaska from Unimak Pass to Amchitka Pass. It was later canceled after no tsunamis were observed.

“No destructive tsunami has been recorded, and no tsunami danger exists along the coasts of the U.S. west coast states, Alaska, and British Columbia,” the tsunami warning center said in a bulletin. “Local authorities can assume all clear upon receipt of this message.”

Several minor aftershocks rattled the area in the hours after the powerful earthquake, and the USGS warned it would likely continue. “These areas tend to produce lots of aftershocks. As a general rule, they’re usually smaller than the first shock,” a seismologist said.

The sparsely populated region of Alaska is occasionally struck by powerful earthquakes. Most notably, an enormous 9.2-magnitude earthquake struck north of Prince William Sound in Alaska on March 27, 1964, unleashing a tsunami which killed at least 143 people.

And most recently, two strong earthquakes struck approximately 60 miles (100 kilometers) east-southeast of Adak, an island near the western extent of the Andreanof Islands group. The earthquakes, which measured 6.4 and 6.1 on the Richter scale, caused no damage.

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