Ameer Ali 01-21-10
Emily Lewis

Search called off for two missing in crash
ALASKA PENINSULA: Aircraft took off late Thursday in gusty winds.

By KYLE HOPKINS,, Published: January 23rd, 2010

The Coast Guard has suspended its search for two pilots who disappeared after a twin-engine plane crashed while taking off from the Sand Point airport.

The ACE Air Cargo flight was cleared to leave Sand Point for Anchorage late Thursday night when people in the area reported hearing what sounded like the engine dying followed by "an impact noise," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lally.

Others said they saw a bright, orange flickering off the end of the runway toward Unga Island, the Coast Guard said.

Sand Point fishing boats and Coast Guard aircraft searched the water for hours, spotting pieces of fuselage and wreckage but finding no sign of pilot Ameer Ali and co-pilot Emily Lewis.

The plane was carrying fish and mail. By early Friday afternoon, debris had spread over three miles of water, according to the Coast Guard.

"It's like we lost a couple of family members today," said Stewart Turner, a 23-year-old ACE pilot who sometimes flew with Ali.

The company's other pilots kept in touch throughout the day, he said, but he fears his friends are gone.

"It doesn't take long in that water to end a person's life," Turner said.

The Coast Guard searched 358 nautical miles for a total of 14 hours Friday, calling an end to the effort at 5:42 p.m., Lally said. It's unlikely they will continue the search today, he said. Emily Lewis

Sand Point is on Popof Island, off the Alaska Peninsula, 570 miles from Anchorage. It has a 4,000-foot runway.

The downed aircraft is a Beechcraft 1900 that would typically fly with a pilot and first officer, said Larry Lewis, an air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board in Anchorage.

"My understanding is this is a cargo flight and there were no other passengers than the crew," he said.

Winds blew at gusts of up to 31 knots with low overcast conditions and good visibility around the time of the crash, Lewis said.

The Coast Guard sent a Jayhawk helicopter and a C-130 from Kodiak to look for survivors.

That morning fisherman Ryan Jones stood in the wheelhouse with his captain on a pollock and cod trawler -- one of four boats searching waves in the Popof Strait. A wind gauge on the boat showed sustained 60 knot winds, Jones said. "The visibility was terrible because the chop."

Fishermen on the trawler saw maybe a dozen pieces of wreckage including what looked like mail packages and food, he said. "There was a lot of small pieces, maybe the size of a dinner plate."

The vessels found much of the debris concentrated 1.7 miles away from the runway according to GPS, Jones said. At about 3:30 a.m., they spotted a seat. No one was in it, he said.

An hour later, Jones saw something black floating in the water. He fished it out with a grappling hook used to snare crab pots, he said. It was a North Face backpack. Inside he found a "High School Musical" flashlight, car keys, Lewis' pay stubs and a copy of "Cheating Death" by Larry Kaniut.

Employees at the ACE offices in Anchorage declined to comment on the crash Friday.

Ali and Lewis were taking off in difficult conditions on the last leg of a long day, said Turner, reached on his personal phone. He said the plane was carrying cargo and had plenty of fuel on board. He doesn't know why the aircraft crashed but suspects a mechanical problem.

"For whatever reason the airplane could not climb," Turner said.

Ali, 28, grew up in upstate New York and came to Alaska after serving as a flight mechanic in the Marines, said his younger brother, Shareif Ali.

"When he does something, he puts in like a 120 percent. That starts when he was in the Marines and afterwards when he was studying to become a pilot," Shareif said.

Before flying for ACE, Ameer Ali was a well-liked flight instructor at Merrill Field-based Take Flight Alaska, said Camille Gates, office manager for the flight school.

When he started in 2007, he was working nights waiting tables at Orso restaurant, she said. "He always wanted to bring his mom here to live. He really, really loved it here."

Ali has no wife or children, his brother said.

The age and hometown of Emily Lewis weren't immediately available, the Coast Guard said.

But Erin Staffeld, a family friend, said the young pilot's family is from Seattle. "She was bouncing around because of flight jobs and flight school," Staffeld said.

Turner said Lewis recently moved to Alaska, followed by her fiance.

"One of the sweetest girls I've ever met right off the bat. Very sincere and genuine," he said.

Lewis and her fiance planned to marry soon, Turner said. "Before they moved up here they were crop dusters. They flew small aircraft individually, single seaters."

Hunt for missing pilots won't resume, Coast Guard says

Anchorage Daily News, January 23rd, 2010

SAND POINT -- The Coast Guard has no plans to resume searching for the two pilots on board a cargo flight that crashed near Sand Point, a spokesman said. Coast Guard aircraft and fishing vessels looked for hours Friday, finding debris in the water but no sign of ACE Air Cargo pilot Ameer Ali, 28, and co-pilot Emily Lewis, 23.

Their aircraft crashed shortly after takeoff from the Sand Point airport. The plane had been bound for Anchorage with a load of fish and mail.

The Coast Guard said it received a call about 12:20 a.m. Friday from Sand Point police that fire department responders and others had reported debris in the water off the end of the runway. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.

Troopers: Bodies discovered after Sand Point plane crash

Posted by thevillage, January 24, 2010

Searchers today found the underwater wreckage of a plane that crashed near Sand Point with the bodies of the pilots still strapped inside, troopers say.

Pilots Ameer Ali, 28, and Emily Lewis, 23, had been missing since the ACE Air Cargo Beechcraft 1900 they were flying went down around midnight Thursday.

Shortly before noon today, searchers discovered what appeared to a part of the plane, said troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters.

A diver found two bodies inside, she said.

No other information was immediately available.

A family spokesperson for Lewis sent this message to media today:

"(Emily) grew up in the Seattle area and recently moved to Alaska to work as a pilot. She was engaged to be married this year. Emily was a funny, sweet, wonderful person who always loved flying. She will be very much missed by her family and friends."