Ralph Aiken, 07-28-06
Searchers scour Inlet for missing plane
By MEGAN HOLLAND, Anchorage Daily News, July 30, 2006
OVERDUE: Aircraft, with three aboard, was believed en route to Anchorage.
Search aircraft were combing the waters and terrain between Anchorage and Kenai
into the night Saturday, looking for a plane that vanished while believed to be
on a flight to Anchorage.
Three people -- all of them pilots, according to the brother of one -- were aboard
the white Aero Commander with blue trim when it disappeared, said Maj. Mike Haller,
a spokesman for the Rescue Coordination Center in Anchorage.
The plane had made repeated trips back and forth between Anchorage and Kenai on
Friday, Haller said.
The aircraft involved in the search faced a daunting challenge in attempting to
find the missing plane in Cook Inlet or on land in the 60 miles between Kenai and
Anchorage, Haller said. "We're looking for a needle in a haystack," he said.
The pilot did not file a flight plan before leaving Kenai on Friday night and no
signal from an emergency locator transmitter could be detected, Haller said. Searchers
were concentrating their efforts around the northwest portion of the Kenai Peninsula.
The multiengine, turboprop plane is owned by Commander Northwest, a Wenatchee, Wash.-based
company, according to Federal Aviation Administration online records.
One of the men onboard was 41-year-old Ian Beer, a pilot for Commander Northwest,
said a brother, Cliff Beer, in a phone interview from Washington. Cliff Beer said
he was in touch with authorities running the search in Alaska, and Commander Northwest,
who told him his brother was aboard the plane.
Ian Beer lives in Seattle and was in Alaska earlier flying Commander Northwest planes
near Barrow, under a contract with Shell Oil to conduct marine mammal oversights,
his brother said.
"He's one of their regular pilots to fly to look at whales and the shoreline," he
Cliff Beer, who contacted the Daily News by e-mail and by telephone offering information
about the missing plane and his brother, did not know why his brother was on the
aircraft Friday or what he was currently working on in Southcentral Alaska.
A spokesperson for Shell said the plane was not under contract or doing Shell work
when it disappeared.
Cliff Beer did not know who else was onboard but said the company told him they
were also pilots. Authorities did not release their names Saturday.
Commander Northwest did not immediately return phone calls.
The plane departed Kenai airport at 8:10 p.m. Friday, Haller said. The last time
the crew checked in with Commander Northwest was at 8:30 p.m. At 12:30 a.m. Saturday,
the Federal Aviation Administration declared the plane overdue.
Haller said the plane had left Anchorage earlier in the day Friday, flew to Kenai,
then back to Anchorage, where it took off yet again for Kenai about 6:30 p.m. The
flight to Anchorage during which it vanished began about an hour and 40 minutes
Cliff Beer said his brother and the other two people onboard had performed some
maintenance on the plane and were testing equipment.
FAA spokeswoman Joette Storm said some sort of signal, not an emergency locator
transmitter but perhaps something from a Global Positioning System device onboard,
was tracked about 14 miles from Anchorage, near Point Possession. Searchers believe
the signal may have come from the missing plane and were concentrating their efforts
at that northwest point of the Peninsula.
Haller said about 80 percent of small aircraft flights in Alaska do not file flight
plans, which makes the task of finding them in the event of an accident that much
Airports at Homer and Soldotna were checked to see if the plane may have gone there,
The Civil Air Patrol, Alaska State Troopers and Coast Guard were among those assisting
in the Saturday search.
Cliff Beer said his brother has 23 years of flying experience, including flying
in the Canadian Air Force. He recently joined Commander Northwest, he said.
Beer said Commander Northwest told him the plane had survival suits onboard. "The
hope is that if the plane went down in the water, they were able to get their gear
on," he said.
He said Ian's wife, Tara, "is just breaking apart. Very upset."
Daily News reporter Megan Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Plane hunt bolstered by family
By MEGAN HOLLAND, Anchorage Daily News, August 1, 2006
NO FLIGHT PLAN: Radar, satellite tracking note last known location.
Searchers continued to look Monday for a plane with three people aboard that vanished
on a flight Friday between Kenai and Anchorage.
Family members of one of the missing men from the Lower 48 also arrived in Alaska
to organize their own ground and shoreline searches near the last known coordinates
of the plane -- above the waters of Cook Inlet.
"We are assuming they are alive," said Capt. John Morse, of the Rescue Coordination
Center, which is leading the effort to find the men.
The three pilots, identified by a company spokesman, are Ralph Aiken, of East Wenatchee,
Wash., Rick Posusta, of Boise, Idaho, and Ian Beer, of Port Orchard, Wash. All were
experienced, but two were new to the company and were engaged in a training flight
in a multi-engine Aero Commander when their aircraft disappeared.
The plane is owned by Commander Northwest, based in East Wenatchee. Commander Northwest
provides pilots and planes on contract, director of operations Dave Weintraub said.
The last known coordinates of the plane were at a point about three miles off shore
between Moose Point and Point Possession, over Gompertz Channel, searchers said.
Radar from air-traffic control at the Anchorage airport and a signal from a satellite
tracking device aboard the plane point to that spot.
But the plane could have dipped below the radar or the tracking device could have
suffered a glitch; either could mean the plane could have flown miles in any direction,
said Capt. Russ Edwards of the rescue center.
No signs of debris or oil sheen have been spotted in the air searches of the water.
The pilots did not file a flight plan.
Ian Beer's brother, Cliff Beer, said in a telephone interview that authorities told
him the plane had been following a steady path along the shoreline from the time
it took off from Kenai about 8:10 p.m. Friday. Then, something apparently happened
about 20 minutes into the flight, when the aircraft suddenly veered toward the Inlet,
The terrain is muddy along the shoreline, with rocky coasts and dense woods inland,
searchers said. A plane down in the trees could be hard to spot.
The Civil Air Patrol, Alaska State Troopers, Coast Guard and Rescue Coordination
Center have deployed aircraft to look for the missing men. Despite the large number
of assets devoted to the job, not all of the possible areas where the plane might
have gone down have been searched yet, said Civil Air Patrol spokesman Mike Dryden.
Searchers are looking for aberrations in the landscape, things that don't look natural,
or glimmers on the ground, Dryden said.
"If it's out there and not at the bottom of the Inlet," he said, "there's a good
chance we'll find the wreckage and hopefully the survivors."
Christine Nangle, a spokeswoman for the rescue center, said rescues in the area
are usually resolved fairly quickly because radio contact there is easy, cell phones
usually work, and the local airports usually can pick up signals from the planes.
"Planes come up missing from time to time, but we usually find them pretty quickly,"
said Maj. Mike Haller, a spokesman for the rescue center. "This is the first time
we've had an extended search like this in a long spell."
Family members of one of the missing men have arrived in Anchorage to organize land
and water searches, a key piece of the effort they think is missing, they said.
Cliff Beer is asking for volunteers to comb the shores of the Kenai National Wildlife
Refuge near Gompertz Channel. Volunteers can meet at the Captain Cook State Recreation
Area parking lot at the end of the Kenai Road 11 a.m. today, he said.
The land is difficult to traverse, and volunteers will need ATVs or similar off-road
vehicles to conduct an effective search. Tara Beer, Ian's wife, will be leading
Ian Beer, 41, was a pilot in the Canadian Air Force and ran search and rescue operations
for many years, his brother said.
"If he made it out of that plane alive, and made it to the shoreline, he's alive,"
Cliff Beer said.
Commander Northwest has five Aero Commander airplanes and is often hired by the
federal government, said Weintraub, its operations director. The company has been
operating in Alaska for almost 30 years and has done extensive marine mammal research.
Aiken has been an employee of the company for about 10 years; Posusta and Beer had
recently joined, Weintraub said.
Daily News reporter Megan Holland can be reached at email@example.com.
Witness report gives a boost to search for missing plane
The Associated Press, August 2, 2006
COOK INLET: Boaters say they saw the aircraft just before it lost contact.
The search for a missing plane with three people on board intensified Tuesday after
people aboard a fishing vessel reported seeing the plane in the area where it was
last heard from Friday night.
The people on the fishing boat noticed the blue and white Aero Commander because
it was not the type of plane normally seen flying low to the water, said McHugh
Pierre, spokesman for the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs at Fort Richardson.
"They just noticed it was an unusual plane that was flying low," he said.
The last known coordinates of the plane were at a point about three miles offshore
between Moose Point and Point Possession in Gompertz Channel north of Cook Inlet,
about 10 to 15 miles southwest of Anchorage. The last contact with the four-seat,
propeller-driven plane was about 8:30 p.m. Friday.
Pierre said there has been no sign of the plane despite a search in which planes
have been flying a grid pattern over the area.
All three aboard the plane were experienced pilots. Two were getting training on
the Aero Commander, owned by Commander Northwest, based in East Wenatchee, Wash.
The pilots did not file a flight plan.
David Weintraub, Commander Northwest's director of operations, said the company
has five Aero Commanders and is often hired by the federal government. The company
has been operating in Alaska for almost 30 years and has done extensive marine mammal
The three aboard the plane were Ralph Aiken Jr., an East Wenatchee, Wash., city
councilman; Rick Posusta of Boise, Idaho; and Ian Beer of Port Orchard, Wash.
Tuesday's search included five aircraft from Kenai and Seward's Civil Air Patrol
and at least one UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from the Alaska Army National Guard
at Fort Richardson.
The search also was extended to include the north side of Cook Inlet, said Sgt.
1st Class Ken Denny. He said the area being focused on was the point where the plane,
which had been skirting the shoreline last Friday, veered toward the Inlet.
Family members of one of the missing men were organizing their own search.
Cliff Beer, brother of Ian Beer, is asking for volunteers to comb the shoreline
near Gompartz Channel. Tara Beer, Ian's wife, was leading the ground search Tuesday.
Cliff Beer said his brother was a pilot in the Canadian Air Force and ran search-and-rescue
operations for many years.
"If he made it out of that plane alive and made it to the shoreline, he's alive,"