Cordova swim team returns home after plane accident

The Cordova Jr./Sr. High School swim team before boarding a flight leave Dutch Harbor. (Oct. 18, 2019) Photo by John Conwell/Unalaska Schools superintendent

The Cordova High school swim team returned home Friday night after the Dutch Harbor plane crash on Thursday, Oct. 17. Cordova schools Superintendent Alex Russin announced the news in a statement on Facebook.

“Our final update of the day is that our swim team is safely home and reunited with their families,” he wrote. “One swimmer remained in Anchorage with parents for follow-up care.”

“Again, our deepest appreciation to the countless number of individuals and groups who responded on the ground in Unalaska, for the airlines involved in coordinating the quick and safe return of our students, and to those here locally in Cordova that supported everyone through the last 24 hours.”

The Cordova Jr./Sr. High School swim team students, coaches and chaperones were among 39 passengers aboard a plane that slid off a runway at Unalaska’s Tom Madsen Airport also known as Dutch Harbor Airport. In photos of the accident, the Saab 2000 twin engine turboprop plane is seen with its nose hanging off a shallow embankment over water about 500 feet from the airport.

David Allan Oltman, 38, of Washington state, died in the crash and 11 others were injured, according to an airline statement and Alaska State Troopers.

Cordova student Charlie Carroll, 16, had a piece of metal embedded in his left leg during the crash, said Charlie’s mother Lisa Carroll. He was planned to be flown to Anchorage for treatment, his mother told The Cordova Times on Friday.

Wendy Ranney said that her son Jacob and husband Steve Ranney were with the team on the flight. She said Steve Ranney was among the passengers examined at the hospital. He has a concussion and several cuts on his arms and face. The Ranneys own Orca Adventure Lodge in Cordova.

“Our lives are very high risk, all summer long, when I put my son and husband on the Alaska Airlines Flight to go to a swim meet, I was not in adventure mode,” she wrote in an email to The Cordova Times. “Our season had ended, and we were settling in for our normal winter rest — I was caught off guard by the short call from my son. ‘Mom, the plane crashed, all ok …’ then dead air.”

The call was from a number she didn’t recognize.

“The wind went out of me and I was immediately torn between this must be a prank and oh shit,” Wendy Ranney said. “A few minutes later I went into emergency mode … Lives are so fragile, we get complacent. I almost lost two of the five things that I hold most dear to me.”

Russin announced Friday afternoon that Alaska Air had been given clearance to land a plane in Unalaska to bring in airline personnel and a care team.

Cordova Jr./Sr. High School swim team members with National Crisis Support Canines in the Anchorage airport on their way home from Dutch Harbor. The team was flown home to Cordova on Friday after their plane slid off the runway the previous day. (Oct. 18, 2019) Photo by Jacob Ranney/for The Cordova Times

“We have been informed that the plane will be able to bring our students back to Anchorage and then on to Cordova later this evening,” Russin wrote. “Since it is still unknown when the airport will be open for commercial travel, the admin team felt it best to take the opportunity to get the team back today to family and friends who are standing by.”

During their layover at the Anchorage airport, students spent time with support dogs. National Crisis Response Canines are specially trained to “foster a sense of resilience and self-efficacy” in people experiencing crisis, according to the organization’s website.

Ranney said the wait for their return was difficult.

“The long (only 24 hour) wait for them to come home was painful,” she wrote. “Do not take time with your family for granted … You never know what tomorrow will bring. Love them while you can.”

The flight departed prior to the scheduled swim meet in Dutch Harbor.

“The coach has shared that the kids wanted to compete tonight – of course they did,” Russin stated. “They’re Wolverines!”

Zachary Snowdon Smith contributed to this report.