Seeking The Essence

Clearing Life's Webs and Weeds….

Plane Crash & Rescue Effort

Bhima Walker 1

“After circling for hours over socked-in Bear Lake Glacier on Monday, the helicopter carrying Alaska Air National Guard pararescuer Ben Walker finally caught a break in the weather, dropped in and lowered Walker and his partner to the deep powder snow. ”

This is a link to an article in the Anchorage Daily News published 01/04/2006. My brother, Ben (Bhima) Walker, serves as a Pararescuer in the Alaska Air National Guard. This article tells of a rescue mission he participated in. The picture is of Bhima in full gear about to board a helicopter.

Son dies, dad lives in plane crash

BEAR LAKE GLACIER: Bad weather kept rescuers away for hours.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge


After circling for hours over socked-in Bear Lake Glacier on Monday, the helicopter carrying Alaska Air National Guard pararescuer Ben Walker finally caught a break in the weather, dropped in and lowered Walker and his partner to the deep powder snow.

By the dusky light of flares, Walker glimpsed the wreckage of a single-engine airplane.

“It was pretty well augured in. The left side was peeled back,” he said. “The wing was still there but not connected to the plane like it should have been.”

Nearby, on a steep embankment, he saw Cooper Landing residents Wayne Koecher, 60, and his son, Wayne Koecher Jr., 24, under a tarp. Immediately, Walker could tell the situation on the isolated snowfield about seven miles east of Seward was more complicated than he had thought.

“Earlier (from the air), all we saw was one person moving down there, and we were pretty sure it was going to be a one-person pickup,” Walker said.

“When I got down there and talked to (Wayne Koecher), he said there was another person there and a dog. He said that his son had been alive after the crash, but he wasn’t sure how he was now.”

At that point, the Pave Hawk helicopter and the HC-130 airplane that accompanied it were low on fuel. Walker estimated he and his partner, Dave Johnson, had 20 minutes to rescue the men.

“We were all cutting it pretty close,” Walker said.

First, Walker and Johnson loaded the younger Koecher, who had been bleeding, into a rescue basket lowered from the helicopter, and Johnson took him up.

As Walker helped the young man’s father, who had seriously injured a leg, into the basket, he called for the dog, a chocolate Lab.

“The dog was on the other side of the aircraft, buried in the snow, not moving,” he said. “I went around and yelled and it popped up. I dragged it over to the litter and strapped him in.”

The father was conscious during the flight out. “He was very concerned about his son,” Walker said.

After the flight to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, the younger Koecher was pronounced dead, according to a report from the Alaska State Troopers. The elder Koecher remained in stable condition Tuesday. The dog was taken by an on-call veterinarian.

The National Transportation Safety Board was investigating the crash Tuesday, said Jim LaBelle, NTSB regional director. No flight plan had been filed, he said. Investigators could not talk to Koecher because he was in surgery, he said.

“(Wayne Koecher) said something about a down-draft,” Walker said. “He tried to escape down the valley and lost control.”

Airflow coming from the mountains can push a plane down faster than it can climb, Walker said.

There was no mayday distress call over the radio before the crash, according to Tech. Sgt. Terry Kurth with the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center at Fort Richardson.

The Coast Guard picked up a signal from the Cessna 185’s emergency locator device around noon Monday, but rescuers were unable to reach the site until 8 p.m. because of the weather, Kurth said.

Wayne Koecher Jr. was a 1999 graduate of Skyview High School in Soldotna, according to the school’s Web site. His father holds an airline transport pilot certification, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The Koecher family was not available to comment Tuesday.


August 28, 2006 - Posted by | Gurukula, Gurukuli


  1. Just wanted to say that I will forever be in debt to your brother. I am the daughter of (still living) Wayne Koecher and sister of Wayne Jr. who died. Not only did he risk his own safety to rescue my dad and brother, but he had the care to also pluck our dog (who healed up just fine) off that hillside. I was so grateful that he took the time to come to the hospital and visit with my dad just days after the accident. I know that it helped my dad tremendously and I have never seen my dad look at someone with such respect and admiration than I did when Ben showed up to visit. Please thank your brother for me. His bravery will be forever appreciated.

    Comment by Farrah Weinert (Koecher) | September 19, 2006 | Reply

  2. Dear Farrah,

    Thank you for leaving a comment. I am very happy to hear that your father (and dog) are doing well. At the same time I am saddened by the loss of your brother. My family is very proud of the work my brother does. It is rewarding to hear directly from someone positively affected by his efforts. I spoke with my brother and told him of your message. I am forwarding it to him so he can respond to you. I wish you and your family well.

    Comment by chaitanyamangala | September 19, 2006 | Reply

  3. I just wanted to also say Thank you very much for your brother and his rescue. I grew up with the Koecher family in Cooper Landing AK – Fritz (Wayne Jr.) was pretty much one of the only things I had close to a brother since I was probably 3 years old. I miss him terribly and this time of year every year he is on my mind even more (always in my thoughts) but I think with it being the holidays and close to the time of the accident. I was comforted that day knowing there was someone out there trying to help them and get to them. Your brother is and will always be a hero to me!
    Much Love all the way from AK!!

    Bryana Wilson

    Comment by Bryana Wilson | December 6, 2007 | Reply

  4. Hello

    I was a coworker of Wayne Sr’s at Atlas Air. I can say now as then when I think of Wayne it’s hard to fight back the emotions, the sense of his loss. I was a Crew Tracker/Scheduler for Atlas for many years, and you get to know your crews pretty well, even if you never see them in person, or seldom do. Wayne was always professional and he was a great employee. As a father I can whole heartedly feel his sense of loss, when I really think about it I can feel myself in his shoes and my heart breaks for him. As you can see its almost 2009 and its still fresh in my mind, and I’d just like to give my respects to your brother and the Koecher family. God Bless….Don Mahon

    Comment by Don Mahon | December 16, 2008 | Reply

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