The Norman Transcript

Nation/World

November 30, 2013

Alaska plane crash victim led search to wreckage

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A mother on board a plane that crashed in remote southwest Alaska made a frantic phone call for help resuscitating her 5-month-old baby, then left the fatally injured boy to lead searchers hampered by cold and fog to the crash site.

Melanie Coffee, 25, of Mountain Village walked nearly a mile toward lights in the village of Saint Marys to meet rescuers Friday night.

“I believe she’s the real hero in this,” said Saint Marys Village Police Officer Fred Lamont Jr., one of the dozens from his community and surrounding villages who responded to the crash that killed four and injured six.

The Hageland Aviation Cessna 208 turboprop left Bethel at 5:40 p.m. on a scheduled flight for Mountain Village and eventually Saint Marys.

Saint Marys, like scores of other Alaska villages, is off the state road system. People routinely use small aircraft to reach regional hubs where they can catch another plane to complete trips to Anchorage or other cities.

Megan Peters, a spokeswoman for the Alaska State Troopers, said the airplane would have been flying in freezing rain with a mile of visibility and a 300-foot ceiling. Lamont described conditions as ice fog with moisture that stuck to vehicles.

The airplane never reached Mountain Village. It crashed around 6:30 p.m. four miles from Saint Marys, said Clint Johnson, head of the National Transportation Safety Board in Alaska.

Pilot Terry Hansen, 68, passengers Rose Polty, 57, Richard Polty, 65, and the infant, Wyatt Coffee, died in the crash.

The survivors included Melanie Coffee, Pauline Johnson, 37, Kylan Johnson, 14, Tanya Lawrence, 35, Garrett Moses, 30, and Shannon Lawrence. All were seriously injured and four were in critical condition, Lamont said. All but Hansen and Shannon Lawrence are from Mountain Village, troopers said. Hansen was from Bethel, according to troopers. Information wasn’t available about where Lawrence lived.

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