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NTSB releases preliminary report for Old Harbor plane crash

old harbor
Old Harbor as seen from above. The village is planning to build a tsunami evacuation center outside the inundation zone with federal money it received last month. (Photo: Creative Commons)

A Piper Cherokee went down just a few minutes after takeoff from the Old Harbor air strip on July 2nd. Two passengers died, Rod Murdock of Kodiak, and Byron Chitwood, who was visiting from Texas. The pilot and two other passengers were injured. The plane was a chartered flight from Vertigo Air Taxi, which is based in Kodiak.

Clint Johnson is the National Transportation Safety Board’s Alaska region chief. The agency released its preliminary report on the crash this week. Johnson said the agency hopes to get more information from the pilot once he recovers.

“After he has a chance to recuperate and is ready to talk with us, we’re going to sit down with him and see if we can get a little bit better of an idea of the details and the circumstances that led up to this accident,” he said.

The pilot has not yet been publicly identified. According to the report, the pilot told investigators that he was attempting to gain altitude to clear a mountain pass when he got caught in a downdraft. He tried to make a forced landing in a forested area but crashed into two mountainous spurs and stopped on a third.

Johnson said it’s still too early for the NTSB to verify the pilot’s claims.

“We do have an NTSB meteorologist that has been assigned to this, he will be doing a deep dive into the weather conditions at the time, but there’s no information available at this point right now,” he said.

In addition to weather, the NTSB also looks at mechanical issues. Johnson said the investigator didn’t see any obvious anomalies on the scene. The agency’s next step is to lay out the wreckage in its Anchorage warehouse to examine over the next few weeks.

“We’re going to be tearing down the engine, looking at the airframe to make sure there were no control issues as far as controllability,” Johnson said. “There’s a whole litany of things that we go through.”

Johnson said the NTSB will take about a year before they draw any conclusions about what went wrong.