NTSB releases reports on 2 Alaska fatal airplane crashes

  • By Dan Joling
  • Wednesday, February 24, 2016 10:36pm
  • News

ANCHORAGE — The National Transportation Safety Board released reports Wednesday outlining factual information on two fatal Alaska commuter airplane crashes.

Included in the reports are a Hageland Aviation crash that killed four people outside the village of St. Mary’s in 2013 and a Hageland training flight that killed two pilots near Kwethluk in 2014.

The reports contain previously unreleased details of crashes that played a part in the NTSB in May 2014 taking the extraordinary step of releasing early, urgent recommendations, including a comprehensive safety audit of businesses operating under HoTH Inc., the parent company of Hageland, and an audit of the Federal Aviation Administration’s oversight of the company.

The factual reports do not list probable causes of the crashes. The NTSB expects to release probable cause reports Friday, said Clint Johnson, head of the Alaska office.

Hageland, Frontier Flying Service and Era Aviation were under the corporate umbrella of HoTH Inc., now doing business as Ravn Alaska, Ravn Connect and Corvus Airlines. Messages left with listed media contacts at Ravn Alaska corporate headquarters were not immediately returned Wednesday.

Johnson said last year the company has made “monumental” upgrades in its risk assessment system, including an operating control center that reviews flights for risks.

A Nov. 29, 2013, crash killed pilot Terry Hansen, 68, passengers Rose Polty, 57, Richard Polty, 65, and 5-month-old Wyatt Coffee. Six passengers sustained serious injuries.

The airplane left Bethel for Mountain Village and began icing up when it ran into thick, cold fog. The pilot tried diverting to St. Mary’s, overflew the village and crashed on a ridge.

Before the flight, the assigned flight coordinator assessed an elevated risk level because of instrument meteorological conditions, night flying and “contaminated” runways. That assessment required a discussion between the flight coordinator and the pilot on ways to mitigate hazards but that conversation did not take place, the report said.

“Neither of the flight coordinators working the flight had received company training on the risk assessment program,” the report said.

The Air Route Traffic Control Center as the airplane approached St. Mary’s recorded sound from the flight associated with a pilot activating the airport lighting system at rural airport. However, witnesses testified the airplane flew low overhead and runway lights never came on. The airplane crashed about a minute later.

Investigators examined the pilot’s radio panel after the crash and determined it was still tuned to the ARTCC frequency rather than the St. Mary’s airport frequency, meaning the pilot could not have activated the lights.

In a crash April 8, 2014, pilots Derrick Cedars, 42, of Bethel and Greggory McGee, 46, of Anchorage died during a training flight 22 miles southeast of Kwethluk. McGee was a newly hired commercial pilot and Cedars was training him. The flight started in Bethel.

Twenty-one minutes into the flight, after the airplane had already completed a series of maneuvers, the airplane went into a steep descent and crashed.

Johnson said problems could have started after a routine training maneuver in which an instructor puts the airplane into an unusual position and requires the student to right the airplane using instruments.

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