Randy Crawford, 1-09-07

Ex-trooper chief missing after crash

COOK INLET: Oil tanker lifts airplane from water with no one aboard; search to continue today.

Anchorage Daily News

Published: January 10, 2007

Alaska State Troopers plan to continue searching today for one of their own -- retired Col. Randy Crawford, who went down in a cargo plane he was piloting over Cook Inlet after radioing that he was in trouble.

A Coast Guard helicopter skimming the ice-choked waters after being called to the area found Crawford's aircraft floating near the western shore of Cook Inlet at about 1:45 p.m. Tuesday. The tail of the single-engine Cessna 207 stuck out of Redoubt Bay near the mouth of Big River.

Crawford, a state cop for more than 25 years who retired as head of the troopers in 2002, was not aboard.

By Tuesday night, no sign of the veteran trooper had been found, but it is unlikely he survived the crash in the frigid waters, officials said.

"Randy loved Alaska, he loved flying, and he was proud of his service to the people of Alaska. We will miss him very much," said Department of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan in a prepared statement.

Crawford, 52, was a pilot for Air Supply Alaska, flying groceries from Kenai to Kokhanok, a village of 180 on the south shore of Iliamna Lake. Friends said he probably took the job because he loved to fly.

Around 11 a.m. Crawford, who was alone aboard the plane, radioed air traffic control in Kenai that he was having engine problems. Shortly after, the tower lost contact with him. That was when he was about 12 miles northwest of Kenai.

Search and rescue craft immediately took to the air, and an emergency locator signal alerted the Coast Guard to the plane's location, which was about 10 miles from the last contact. A nearby oil tanker was first to reach the plane.

Using a crane on its deck, the oil tanker, the Seabulk Nevada, lifted the floating plane from the Inlet, drained it, and set it down on the vessel's deck.

There was no sign of Crawford.

The plane, the Coast Guard reported, was relatively intact.

Survival gear was found still secured in cargo netting, the Coast Guard said.

The Cessna was recovered about two miles from shore, and by the time rescuers arrived, the aircraft was in about 50 feet of water and drifting with heavy ice, the Coast Guard said.

The Coast Guard said it is possible the plane landed on an ice floe, then slipped off.

The National Weather Service said the sea temperature was about 28 degrees, while the air temperature was around zero at the time of the crash.

The news of Crawford's vanishing hit hard at trooper headquarters in Anchorage. Trooper spokesman Greg Wilkinson, a personal friend, as many claimed to be, said even though Crawford retired in 2002, he was still part of the trooper family.

Crawford began his trooper career at the Soldotna post in 1976. He became director of the troopers in 2000, succeeding Col. Glenn Godfrey, after Godfrey was named commissioner of the Department of Public Safety.

Crawford retired in 2002. He vowed to relax but was a man who could not sit still, his friends said. This past summer, he returned to his home in Soldotna from Iraq, where he had been training Iraqi police.

"He was bigger than life," said longtime friend Ted Bachman, retired deputy commissioner of the Department of Public Safety. "And all it takes is a little bit of bad weather or who knows what went on, and that's that. The state has a tendency to do that to people like Randy who survive just about everything you can think of, and then, poof, it eats you up."

The Alaska State Troopers, the Coast Guard and Alaska Air National Guard continued their search until Tuesday evening, when ice and poor visibility turned them away.

The search is scheduled to continue today at first light and will concentrate on the shorelines.