ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The National Park Service scaled back its ongoing search Saturday for a plane carrying three Park Service employees and a pilot that went missing near Katmai National Park over two weeks ago.
Searchers have logged over 50,000 flight miles, but haven’t turned up any sign of the missing floatplane.
Gloria Maschmeyer holds out hope that her friend, pilot Marco Alletto, will make it home safely.
“I think that they could still be out there -- I don't have a clue why we can't see some trace of it,” Maschmeyer said.
Maschmeyer says she's never worried about flying with Alletto -- but right now, she's worried about Alletto's life.
“He's excellent; I'd put my life in his hands anytime,” Maschmeyer said.
Alletto, along with Park Service employees Mason McLeod and brothers Neal and Seth Spradlin, went missing after their DeHavilland Beaver left Swikshak Bay on Aug. 21. The group was headed to King Salmon, but the floatplane never made it.
“At this point we have flown just about 50,000 flight miles -- that circles the earth about two and a half times,” said Park Service spokesperson Adrienne Freeman. “We have so far found no clues.”
At times up to 12 aircraft were involved in the Park Service’s multi-agency search effort, scanning the 14,000-square-mile search area -- but bad weather often hampered search efforts, and made it risky for pilots.
“The longer that we have aircraft in the air, the more risk we run of injuring somebody in an aviation accident,” Freeman said.
After 15 days of combing the area for the missing plane, the search turned up no leads. On Saturday, the Park Service decided to drastically scale back its search efforts.
“As the days go on and as people get tired, the other objectives include things like covering the search area twice, making sure we have two different sets of eyes on the search area as we can -- while we're keeping people safe,” Freeman said.
The Park Service says it will continue limited searching with regular park patrols, and pilots flying in the area will continue to scan for any signs.
Maschmeyer says knowing there are eyes in the area, looking for her friend and the men with him, is enough to keep her hanging on to the idea that they'll make it home.
“I don't think it's really possible to keep up that kind of an intense search, and I know they are doing everything they can,” Maschmeyer said.
The cost of the search has reached nearly $1 million. The Park Service says it has a separate budget for searches like this one.
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