Author: Zaz Hollander
A Grant Aviation commuter flight from Newtok to Bethel caught fire when it crashed while landing earlier this month. The pilot and all five passengers — including two children — survived with what officials described as minor injuries.
The pilot, who was not identified, is still recovering from the severely sprained collarbone he suffered during the July 8 crash, company officials said this week.
Now a new National Transportation Safety Board report says the pilot spotted flames through a window and helped evacuate the children and three adults before fire consumed the plane.
It also says the turbine-powered Cessna 208B stalled after the pilot missed the landing and was going around for another try when he got an urgent instruction from an air-traffic controller to turn.
About 10 miles from the Bethel airport, the pilot told the controller he’d land on a shorter runway because it was a quicker arrival from his direction and he “wanted to ‘make it easier’ for the tower controller” who was busy with other planes arriving on the airport’s two main runways, according to a preliminary NTSB report released last week.
That runway measures nearly 1,865 feet long, a mix of asphalt and gravel, compared to the airport’s main 6,400-foot or 4,000-foot asphalt runways, a runway database shows. The runway the pilot chose runs perpendicular to the others.
The pilot apparently had trouble with the landing, the report shows.
The pilot said the controller cleared him to land on the shorter runway about 4 miles out, it says. He used a higher-than-normal traffic pattern because of limited visibility and terrain west of the airport and came in “with an increased rate of descent and full flaps.”
“During the landing flare, the airplane floated down the runway, and the pilot executed a go-around, due to insufficient runway distance remaining,” NTSB investigator Noreen Price wrote.
The pilot climbed out and told controllers he was going around, Price continued. “The pilot recalled that the tower controller urgently instructed him twice to ‘turn left immediately.’ He said that as he initiated the turn to the left, the airplane suddenly stalled, rolled right and descended, impacting the ground in a right wing low attitude.”
The plane crashed on its right side in a grassy drainage ditch between the two other runways.
Winds were reported at 3 knots around the time of the crash, the report says.
Witnesses, airport Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting crews and the Bethel Fire Department responded to the crash scene.
An ambulance transported three people to the hospital, officials said at the time. None of their injuries were considered life-threatening.
Grant Aviation can’t comment on the preliminary report because it’s part of the ongoing investigation into the crash, said company president and CEO Rob Kelley.
The pilot is still recovering from his injuries and not actively flying, Kelley said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story included comment from the Grant Aviation president that the pilot was recovering from a broken collarbone. His collarbone was severely sprained.