By JEFF BRADY and MASSEY PADGHAM
SKAGWAY - Five tourists and a pilot have been killed in the flaming crash last night of a Skagway Air Services Piper Cherokee.
The plane crashed into a mountainside about 1,200 metres above the U.S. customs post, which is on the Klondike Highway about 24 kilometres north of Skagway.
Alaska state troopers in a helicopter from Juneau, a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter from Sitka and a helicopter temporarily based in the nearby Fraser, B.C. Canada Customs station were at the scene last night but withdrew because of darkness, after confirming everyone on board was dead. The bodies were still on the mountain this morning but were to be removed by police and coast guard today and flown to Juneau.
Skagway police say all five of the tourists have now been identified. The names of two Illinois tourists are not being released pending notification of kin. The five were on an organized tour.
Dead are Edith Cilley of Hartford, Conn. and Mr. and Mrs. William Randolph of Placerville, Calif.
The pilot of the single-engine aircraft was also killed. Steven Lewis was a long- time Skagway resident who has worked as a White Pass railway engineer. He was a flight instructor and had been working for Skagway Air Service for three years.
"We have an investigator from the NSTB (National Transportation Safety Board) en route from Anchorage," said Skagway police chief Jim Hester.
The plane was noticed missing within 15-20 minutes of the crash, which is believed to have occurred at 7:15 p.m. Two Skagway Air Services planes had taken off close together for the 45-minute aerial "gold rush tour." They had flown up through the Chilkoot Pass and were returning to Skagway via the White Pass, the route of the railway and the Klondike Highway.
When the first plane landed and the other did not turn up, Skagway Air Services planes left to search for the missing plane. Tuning into the emergency aviation frequency, the searchers picked up an automatic crash device, an emergency locator transmitter, sending off a beep. They quickly spotted the wreckage and notified police and the Coast Guard.
Other pilots in the area said they had not picked up any emergency radio signals and have no idea what caused the crash.