Mason McLeod 2010-08-21
Neal Spradlin
Seth Spradlin
Marco Alletto

Searchers hope missing floatplane set down in cove

By LISA DEMER,, Published: August 23rd, 2010

A massive search Sunday evening over a mountainous stretch of Southwest Alaska failed to find a missing floatplane carrying three National Park Service employees headed to King Salmon.

The Park Service identified the missing workers as Mason McLeod, 26, and two brothers, Neal Spradlin, 28, and Seth Spradlin, 20. The name of the pilot is not being released until his family can be notified.

The search for the four involves dozens of people and has included aircraft from the U.S. Coast Guard, the Alaska Air National Guard, the Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska State Troopers and a private air service, said Katmai National Park Superintendent Ralph Moore. King Salmon is about 285 miles west of Anchorage.

The missing de Havilland Beaver floatplane, owned by Branch River Air Service of King Salmon and equipped with an emergency locator transmitter, vanished after leaving Swikshak Lagoon early Saturday afternoon, according to the Park Service.

The Katmai National Park employees, who worked in maintenance, were in Swikshak, east of King Salmon, to work on replacing a deteriorated ranger station, Moore said.

They had been holed up for days waiting for construction supplies but were stymied by the weather, said John Quinley, Park Service spokesman.


Neal Spradlin and his younger brother Seth both were born and raised in Westfield, Ind., said their father, Charles Spradlin, a full gospel minister there. Both love the outdoors. Neal is adventuresome and a mountain climber, his father said. He settled in Alaska about five years ago and was a permanent employee of Katmai, living in Girdwood during the off season.

This summer and last, Seth joined Neal in Alaska to work at Katmai, hoping to save money for college, his father said. Seth is an artist who specializes in acrylic wildlife paintings. He has been winning painting awards for years, his father said.

Spradlin said he knew the searchers were looking hard for his sons, two of his eight children.

"At this point, as of less than half an hour ago, they have not found hide nor hair of them. But they will. We believe all is well," Spradlin said around 9 p.m. Alaska time.

But if the worst happened, he said, "they love God and they are in heaven if they didn't make it."

Late Sunday night, Spradlin e-mailed an "urgent prayer request" imploring others to pray for all four to "be miraculously found alive."

"Pray they'll quickly be found somewhere between Swikshak Lagoon in Katmai National Park and their destination King Salmon, Alaska," he wrote.


The contracted plane picked up the Park Service crew of three around 1:45 p.m. Saturday. A second Branch River plane, which picked up two other Park Service employees, left about 15 minutes later. The second plane made it to King Salmon in about an hour but the first plane never arrived. The weather was deteriorating and the plane that made it through had to fly about 500 feet above ground level along a river drainage, according to the Park Service.

"The pilot was very familiar with the area and had flown the route many times," Moore said.

The search covers a wide and rugged area between King Salmon and the park's Pacific coast. Searchers were concentrating on river valleys that drain into Kamishak Bay on the park's northern boundary, according to the Park Service, which is coordinating the effort.

"There's a lot of country out there," Quinley said.

With low clouds, the pilot of the missing plane likely would have headed north up the Katmai coast around Cape Douglas, cut in along a river drainage such as the McNeil River area, then headed toward Kulik Lake west to King Salmon. That route avoids the high mountains and is the way the other pilot made it through, reportedly along the Little Kamishak drainage, Moore said.

The pilot of the second plane didn't see anything amiss.

"It's hard to know if they actually ended up flying the same (river) drainage," Moore said. "Fifteen minutes of flight time might end up opening up a drainage that was closed before."

Poor visibility is hampering the search, which was going to wrap up for the night around 10:30 p.m., rescuers said.

Searchers haven't picked up a signal from the plane's emergency locator transmitter or any radio communications.

Moore said there's a chance the plane could have landed and the group could be holed up in a cove waiting for the weather to improve. Any signals from the plane's radio may be weak or blocked by mountains, the superintendent said.

The missing plane is maroon with white stripes. Its tail number is N9313Z. Pilots in the area are urged to monitor frequency 121.5 and notify Katmai National Park at 907-246-3305 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 907-246-3305 end_of_the_skype_highlighting if they have any information.

The park service asks that private planes don't try to search on their own unless asked to do so, to keep the area clear.

Two helicopters from Egli Air Haul in King Salmon are helping in the search, and the Park Service said local businesses and float plane operators have been offering services and personnel.


The search was initiated Saturday afternoon through the Air National Guard's Rescue Coordination Center in Anchorage and continued until about 11 p.m. that night. Air crews started again at first light on Sunday.

The U.S. Coast Guard released a video of the search as seen from one of its HC-130s early Sunday. The back doors were open and two crew members, hooked to the plane, can be seen perched in the back looking over the marshy, lake-dotted landscape. The cloud ceiling was 500 to 1,000 feet and visibility on the ground was 10 miles but less than that in the rain, one of the crew members said.

"Guys, go ahead and be looking up the sides of the hills," an officer advises. "'Cuz if this guy got punched into some weather, he might have tried to climb out."

Alaska is reeling from a series of high profile plane crashes this summer starting with the June 1 crash of a Cessna 206 that slammed into a Fairview building and burst into flames, killing a 4-year-old. On July 28, a C-17 crashed on Elmendorf Air Force Base, killing the four crew members, who had been practicing for an air show. Days later, a crash in Denali National Park killed three. Then, on Aug. 9, a de Havilland Otter owned by GCI ran into a mountainside, killing former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens and four others.

"It's hard, especially living out here in the Bush. Planes are to us what cars are to people in the Lower 48. We rely on them heavily, for coming and going. They are just part of the way we do business and the way we live our lives," Moore said. "But the weather turns quickly and it's dangerous.

"Sometimes we don't think about the dangers."

No sign yet of plane carrying park workers

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

Searchers in helicopters and airplanes report no sign today of a floatplane that disappeared Saturday carrying three National Park Service employees in Southwest Alaska.

The de Havilland Beaver went missing on what was to be a short trip through rugged terrain from Swikshak Lagoon to King Salmon.

"The weather in the search area today is the best it's been since the search began. Clear skies, very low winds," said Katmai National Park Superintendent Ralph Moore. "We're optimistic this will be a very good day for searching.'

As of about 2:30 p.m., no one had spotted the single-engine floatplane.

"We're covering a huge amount of ground and so far we have not seen or heard anything," said National Park Service spokesman John Quinley.

Moore today identified the pilot of the flight as Marco Alletto, 47, of King Salmon. The Park Service employees -- previously identified as Mason McLeod, 26, and two brothers, Neal Spradlin, 28 and Seth Spradlin, 20 -- had been preparing an old ranger station in the area for reconstruction.

At least four helicopters and six fixed-wing planes were searching the northeast portion of the 4 million-acre park, according to the Park Service.

Swikshak Lagoon is on the Alaska Peninsula, across Shelikof Strait from Kodiak Island.

Searchers are looking along the northern coast of Katmai National Park, from Swikshak, north around Cape Douglas, toward McNeil River. They also are flying west toward King Salmon along river valleys that drain into Kamishak Bay, suspecting the plane might have flown up one of the valleys and then along Kulik Lake.

Other possible routes are also being searched.

This morning a helicopter that flew the park coast south from Swikshak on the chance that the plane might have turned that direction found no sign of the Beaver, Quinley said.

Meantime, a Park Service plane and a state troopers plane are searching north and east of the park boundary in case the missing plane flew that way in an attempt to refuel or land, according to the Park Service.

"We're checking the water as well as the land," Moore said.

Among the search aircraft are an Alaska Air National Guard HC-130 and HH-60 Pavehawk helicopter, said Maj. Guy Hayes, a spokesman.

Search aircraft left King Salmon around 10:15 or 10:30 today after fog lifted in the Alaska Peninsula town of about 400 people, Moore said.

The missing plane is one of two operated by Branch River Air Service in King Salmon that picked up the Park Service employees Saturday at Swikshak Lagoon. The other plane left 15 minutes after the missing aircraft -- at about 2 p.m. -- and arrived safely in King Salmon after flying low because of poor weather.

Along with the Park Service and Alaska Air National Guard, the search effort today includes the U.S. Coast Guard, Branch River Air and helicopters from Egli Air Haul in King Salmon. Meantime, some air taxi companies in the region have altered their routes or extended flights to help look for the missing plane, Quinley said.

Read The Village, the ADN's blog about rural Alaska, at Twitter updates: Call Kyle Hopkins at 257-4334.

Pilot discovers debris of missing Park Service flight
Missing Plane Located in Katmai NP

Posted by the village, September 29, 2010

Debris from the plane carrying three National Park Service employees in Katmai National Park was located on the park’s rugged northern coast on Wednesday.

Katmai National Park Superintendent Ralph Moore said he was notified by a local helicopter pilot, Sam Egli, that he had spotted portions of the aircraft, including a piece of the tail with identifying numbers, on a narrow section of beachabout 10 miles northwest of Sukoi Bay. Egli was en route to an unrelated commercial flying job when he made the discovery.

The single engine floatplane, a deHavilland Beaver operated by Branch River Air Service in King Salmon, carried the pilot and three National Park Service maintenance employees and has been missing since August 21.

National Park Service and military personnel are headed to the site this morning to secure the debris and continue the search for additional wreckage. The accident investigation will be conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The employees who were on board the aircraft were Mason McLeod, 26, and two brothers, Neal Spradlin, 28; and Seth Spradlin, 20. The pilot was Marco Alletto, 47, from King Salmon. Egli told the park there was no indication of survivors.

The discovery of the plane comes after more than a month of aerial and ground searching by national park, military and civilian personnel. More than 60,000 miles of flying was done, at times with more than a dozen aircraft working search patterns over the 4 million acre park. The area where the debris was found had been flown over by the National Park Service as recently as Monday, and rangers had walked the beach just a few miles west of the debris site. High tides and high east winds on Monday and Tuesday are thought to have helped make the debris visible from the air.