James Wirth 8/22/92 Whittier Flying Crash
Susan Wirth 8/22/92 Whittier Flying Crash
Kyle Wirth 8/22/92 Whittier Flying Crash
Lianne Wirth 8/22/92 Whittier Flying Crash

Plane Crash Kills Four
By Liz Ruskin, ADN 08/24/92

An airplane slammed into the mountain above the Whittier tunnel Saturday evening in dense fog and strong winds, killing the two adults and two children on board. Whittier's volunteer search-and-rescue team reached the crash site Sunday afternoon and determined there were no survivors. Whittier Police Chief Max Hurlbut said the pilot, an Anchorage man, has been tentatively identified. His name has not been released because troopers have been unable to reach his relatives. The other victims a woman in her mid-20s, a boy of about 2 and an infant are believed to be the pilot's family, Hurlbut said.

A search was launched after three people working at the Army tank farm near the tunnel entrance heard the crash shortly before 7 p.m. Saturday. "We heard this plane coming through the pass. We remarked that it wasn't a real smart thing to do because it was pretty fogged in," said Dan Jewell, who is the volunteer director of search and rescue for Whittier. "We heard the buzz of the plane, a crash, then silence."

The Cessna 185 was apparently heading through Portage Pass from Portage when it crashed into Maynard Mountain about a mile up the mountain side, above the tunnel entrance in Whittier, Jewell said. The fuselage could not be seen from the ground, he said.

The weather prevented an air search, but Jewell and other rescuers hiked the pass until dark, he said. The search resumed at 6:30 a.m. Sunday and the plane was spotted at noon.

Camping gear and plane parts were spread over a 150-foot area, Jewell said, and the bodies had been thrown clear of the plane. "We're prepared to find adults," he said. " When you find children it's pretty traumatic."

The search team was forced off the mountain due to high winds and was unable to recover the bodies, he said.

Bad weather also prevented crash investigators from reaching the site Sunday.

The accident was the second plane crash in Portage Pass in 24 hours. On Friday, a Cessna 150 crashed into a mountaintop after the pilot, Edward Neff of Campbell River, B.C., tried to turn around in the pass. Both men on board were uninjured and walked down to a beach about four miles outside of Whittier. Jewell, a charter boat operator, said he and his family were returning to Whittier after dropping off some kayakers when he spotted a flashing light on a beach.

"He was flashing an emergency signal with a flashlight. The two of them had been trying to signal a boat for several hours and we just happened to see it," Jewell said.