ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — An air ambulance taking off from an Aleutian Islands airport experienced an unknown problem within seconds and made an emergency water landing in the ocean, the company’s chief executive officer said Thursday.
A pilot, a nurse and a paramedic survived with no serious injuries and scrambled into a life raft after the LifeMed aircraft crash into Unalaska Bay, said CEO Russ Edwards at a news conference.
“It was a matter of moments that they were airborne,” he said.
Unalaska is about 825 miles (1,330 kilometers) west of Anchorage. The island is home to Dutch Harbor, the largest U.S. fishing port by volume of seafood landed.
The LifeMed medevac aircraft took off at about about 8 a.m. to pick up a patient in Adak near the west end of the Aleutian Chain. Weather was typical, Edwards said.
“Some wind, little gusts, but really nothing unusual for Dutch Harbor,” Edwards said.
The Beechcraft King Air twin-engine turboprop hit the water about 300 yards (275 meters) off shore, Edwards said, between the end of the runway and Hog Island.
A city harbor vessel, the Tidewater, reached the airplane crew in 20 minutes. The boat transported the airplane crew members to shore and by 9 a.m. they were being evaluated at a city clinic.
The airplane subsequently sank in 58 feet (17.7 meters) of water at the location where it stopped, said Unalaska acting city manager Marjie Veeder.
LifeMed halted operations for a safety stand-down after the crash, Edwards said. Ground operations resumed at noon. Air operations could resume by 8 p.m., he said, after additional evaluation.
The company uses several vendors for flying. Aero Air was the vendor for the flight Thursday. LifeMed completed 3,900 flights in 2019 and Edwards estimated there were 12 to 15 per month out of Unalaska.
LifeMed flew to Unalaska to retrieve the crew from the stricken airplane. Edwards was not sure when the company’s base in Unalaska would be re-staffed.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the crash, said FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer
The crash is the second at the Unalaska Airport in three months.
A commuter airplane carrying 42 people, including a high school swim team, went off the runway Oct. 18 and came to a rest just short of the Bering Sea. One man was killed in the crash. The crash occurred as the pilot made a second attempt to land on the runway. Parts of a propeller blade pierced the cabin.
LifeMed Alaska, LLC provides 24/7 critical care air ambulance services with a fleet that includes Learjets, turboprops, and helicopters, according to its website. The company is headquartered in Anchorage and has base operations in Fairbanks, Soldotna, Bethel, Palmer, Juneau and Dutch Harbor.
The crash is the third of an air ambulance since November.
A Security Aviation pilot with a paramedic and nurse from Medevac Alaska on Nov. 29 crashed into a mountain near Cooper Landing, killing all three on board.
A pilot from Resolve Aviation with two crew members from Medevac Alaska on Dec. 24 made an emergency landing onto a frozen lake in southwest Alaska near Koliganen. The airplane had dropped off a patient at New Stuyahok and was returning to Anchorage when it lost power. A helicopter transported the crew to Dillingham.