By Joanna Bailey

A TransNothern Aviation Douglas DC-3 has been forced to make a belly landing after losing power to one of its engines in Alaska. The cargo flight had recently taken off from Ted Stevens Anchorage Airport yesterday morning, when it declared an emergency and headed for Merrill Field Airport. The aircraft successfully landed gear up, and there were no injuries to the crew onboard.

TransNorthern is one of the few airlines keeping such old aircraft in active service. Photo: TransNorthern

DC-3 makes an unscheduled stop

TransNorthern Aviation is one of the rare airlines keeping the iconic DC-3 in regular operation. Based out of Anchorage, the airline operates charter passenger and cargo flights around Alaska. In its current fleet are four such vintage aircraft, with listing three as in storage and just one remaining operational.

That operational aircraft is registered N28TN, an ex-US Navy C-117D originally built in 1952 and part of the TransNorthern fleet since 2007. Despite its vintage status, the aircraft is in regular use, flying from Anchorage to destinations including Kenai, Deadhorse, Egegik, and Beluga. Yesterday, N28TN was all set to fly from Anchorage to Kodiak, a flight that usually takes around an hour and a half to complete.

But yesterday’s flight was short-lived, as the aircraft’s crew reported a problem with the right-hand engine shortly after takeoff. The pilots initially requested a return to Anchorage, using left turns only, but subsequently requested to divert to nearby Merill Field instead. Merrill Field is a general aviation airport close to downtown Anchorage, which has been in service since 1930.

Gear up landing

The aircraft only managed to climb to around 900 feet (275 meters) on the one engine, and began an approach to Merrill Field. Eyewitnesses report that the aircraft clipped some nearby trees on approach, and that it came in fast and low.

The pilots managed to land the plane, but it was a gear up landing. It’s unclear at this point why the gear was not deployed, but the aircraft slid to a safe stop on Merrill’s runway 7 at around 10:40 yesterday morning. Speaking to Alaska News Source, Alaska’s Chief of the National Transportation and Safety Board, Clint Johnson, commented,

“NTSB is investigating at this point right now. My understanding is the airplane landed ‘gear up’ after declaring an emergency. They departed from Anchorage International, originally headed to Kodiak, had a loss of engine power very shortly after takeoff, made the emergency landing at Merrill. Two pilots onboard, no injuries.”

The airfield was closed for a while in order to clear the DC-3, which was eventually craned off the runway. The airport reopened at around 16:45 yesterday. The NTSB will be investigating the incident.

Unfortunately for the DC-3, the damage was extensive. Photographs of the scene show propellors on both sides of the plane bent and deformed from striking the ground.

It’s a double blow for TransNorthern, as it’s the airline’s second accident in recent months. Back in August, its 81-year-old passenger DC-3, registered N30TN, came off the runway in Goodnews, Alaska, and is still out of action as a result.