‘Frustrating’ investigation into fatal 2019 medevac crash ends with no clear answers

A person holds a candle
Sitkans held a vigil on February 19, 2019 for those lost in the crash. An event was also held in Juneau where the three crew members lived. (Katherine Rose/KCAW)

Federal aviation safety investigators have closed the book on the Guardian Flight crash that killed three crew members.

The twin-engine medevac plane was en route to the Southeast village of Kake to pick up a patient the evening of Jan. 29, 2019. During its approach over Frederick Sound, the turboprop veered to the right and plummeted 2,575 feet in just 14 seconds.

A final report released Jan. 28 by the National Transportation Safety Board said there isn’t enough evidence to explain how or why.

“A loss of control for reasons that could not be determined based on the available information,” the 13-page report said.

Most of the wreckage of the King Air 200 was recovered in about 500 feet of water. The bodies of the Juneau-based crew members were never found despite extensive effort by the U.S. Coast Guard and private contractors.

This one was a little bit frustrating for us,” NTSB’s lead investigator Clint Johnson told CoastAlaska. “It’s not for the lack of trying, but unfortunately, it didn’t give us any definitive answers of exactly what happened.”

He says there was initial hope after the cockpit voice recorder was found. But a forensics lab determined the recorder hadn’t worked since 2015.

We were definitely hoping that we were going to be able to glean some information as far as what happened in those last final moments,” Johnson said on Friday. “Unfortunately, it did not help us at all.”

A radar track of the Guardian Flight and its communications with air traffic communications during its final approach clearance. (NTSB)

All but one of the crew seats were recovered with the harnesses unbuckled. Because none of the crew members were found, the NTSB said it couldn’t conduct autopsies or toxicology tests. The pilot had cleared an FAA medical exam about four months before the crash.

The three killed were 63-year-old pilot Patrick Coyle; 43-year-old paramedic Margaret Langston and 30-year-old nurse Stacie Rae Morse. Morse was more than six months pregnant at the time.

Her fiancé, Dylan Listberger, filed a wrongful death suit against the Utah-based medevac company and plane manufacturer last month, shortly before the crash’s two-year anniversary.

But Listberger’s Juneau attorney Sheldon Winters says it’s unclear whether the civil suit will proceed.

“Mr. Listberger filed suit to preserve potential claims in light of a possible two-year statute of limitations, while we waited for the NTSB probable cause report,” Winters wrote in a statement. “We are currently evaluating the recently issued NTSB report.”

A Guardian Flight representative said it’s aware of the lawsuit — which has been moved to federal court — but had no further comment.

Jacob Resneck is CoastAlaska's regional news director in Juneau.

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