Private search begins for missing Whitehorse bound plane

After a month-long, multimillion-dollar US/Canadian search failed to turn up the plane of California couple Gary and Ingrid Patigler, their family will be taking a closer look.

After a month-long, multimillion-dollar US/Canadian search failed to turn up the plane of California couple Gary and Ingrid Patigler, their family will be taking a closer look.

“We believe we are searching areas not searched by either Canada or Alaska search-and-rescue,” wrote Leslie Taylor-McLaughlin, sister-in-law to the missing couple, in an August 4 e-mail to the News.

Since Wednesday, three private aircraft have been scouring portions of Southeast Alaska.

On June 20, the Patigler’s single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza went missing as it flew between Wolf Lake, Alaska and Whitehorse.

Pilot and tavern owner Tom Wesner saw the plane as it flew over his Dan Creek, Alaska cabin.

A week later, when descriptions of the missing plane hit the news, he phoned in his sighting.

Only later did he realize he had phoned in the wrong information.

Wesner reporter the plane’s course as headed southeast. After consulting a map, he realized it was headed north.

The family’s new search area is being plotted around Wesner’s discrepancy.

Based at an airstrip-equipped cabin in Southeast Alaska, the family is employing two Piper Cubs and a helicopter for a four-day search of the Skolai Pass, located in Alaska’s Wrangell/St. Elias National Park and Preserve.

The effort could easily cost up to $100,000, reported the Anchorage Daily News.

“I believe eventually the aircraft will be found; up the Nazina Valley or through one of the passes cutting over towards Whitehorse,” said Wesner.

The area in question has been searched “numerous times,” said Kalei Brooks, spokesperson for the Alaska National Guard.

“It’s not for me to say whether or not (the family) is using their resources or their time productively, all I know is that we had an exhaustive and an extensive search,” said Brooks,

During their 38-day search for the Patiglers, Alaska authorities searched a total of 142,000 square kilometres – equal to almost half the size of Germany.

“If you were to compress all the mountains, the search area was about half the size of the state of Illinois,” said Brooks.

The Alaska National Guard flew 67 sorties for a total of 221 hours.

The Civil Air Patrol flew 154 sorties for 546.8 hours.

Even the US National Park Service joined in, flying 11 sorties for a total of 40.4 hours.

“There was a lot of manpower and time put in to this particular search,” said Brooks.

The Alaska National Guard spent more time searching for the Patiglers than on any other search-and-rescue operation in its history.

On the Canadian side, five military and nine civilian aircraft, backed by a staff of 90 people, searched for 20 days.

The Canadian search cost in excess of $4 million for aircraft fuel alone. Adding in personnel and other expenses, the total would be much higher.

Cost estimates are different in Alaska because search and rescue operations are treated as “training missions” for overseas combat operations.

“We didn’t find anything but that’s not to say that a family shouldn’t look elsewhere to do something,” said Brooks.

“It’s not unreasonable to assume that a family is going to exhaust all the resources that they can to find a loved one,” she said.

On the Canadian side, the Patigler search was the first “major” search since Cessna pilot Ron Boychuk went missing over interior BC in 2007.

A 12-day search failed to find him, but Boychuk’s family has refused to give up the search.

Boychuk’s son and brothers spent more than $90,000 on helicopter and all-terrain vehicle searches.

Now they have moved the search online. At internetSAR.org, volunteers can scour satellite images of the search area.

In 2007, a similar method was used to search for the Nevada crash site of adventurer Steve Fossett.

The Patiglers had a full supply of wilderness camping equipment on board at the time of the crash – prompting the family to believe that they might still be alive.

“I’m hoping they’re fine and they’re just eating moose steaks or something,” Taylor-McLaughlin told the Anchorage Daily News.

When a loved one disappears without a trace, lack of closure can be excruciating on a family, said Barb Evans-Ehricht, manager of volunteer services for Hospice Yukon.

“When no body is found it is much harder to believe, because there’s a part of us that wants to believe that the person has escaped death or will be found at some other point – so there’s a part of us that wants to believe that they really didn’t die,” said Evans-Ehricht.

“I think it’s important that they do the (private) search-and-rescue, leaving no stone unturned, so it really does help the person to acknowledge, ‘We’ve done everything we could … but there are no bodies,’” she said.

Contact Tristin Hopper at

tristinh@yukon-news.com