NTSB to hold Alaska meeting on deadly Togiak plane crash
A plane crash near Togiak that killed three people last year has prompted the National Transportation Safety Board to schedule an investigative hearing in Alaska next month, the first the Last Frontier has seen in nearly three decades.
The NTSB announced the Aug. 17 meeting in Anchorage on Tuesday, following the crash of a Ravn Connect Flight 3153 operated by Hageland Aviation. The Cessna 208 had been en route from Quinhagak to Togiak on Oct. 2 when NTSB officials say Hageland lost contact with it.
Searchers found the aircraft roughly 12 miles northwest of Togiak in steep, mountainous terrain. Both pilots – 43-year-old Homer resident Timothy Cline and 29-year-old Drew Welty of Anchorage – as well as 49-year-old Manokotak passenger Louie John were killed in the crash.
A preliminary NTSB report on the wreck said the plane’s last tracking data put it at an altitude of 1,043 feet. An examination of the crash site found that it had struck a 2,300-foot ridgeline before wreckage descended along the slope.
The investigative hearing, the first the NTSB has held in Alaska since the 1989 grounding of the Exxon Valdez in Prince William Sound as well as the first held outside of Washington, D.C. in almost 20 years, will be open to the public. It will focus on fact-finding rather than analysis and discussion regarding the Togiak crash, which will be reserved for a board meeting typically convened in Washington, D.C.
“The NTSB is conducting this investigative hearing in Alaska because the majority of witnesses we want to hear from are in Alaska,” board member Earl Weener said in the NTSB’s statement. “We also believe that holding the hearing in Alaska will help increase awareness within the Alaskan aviation community of the issues surrounding controlled flight into terrain accidents and flight into instrument meteorological conditions.”
NTSB spokesman Chris O’Neil said Weener and about a dozen other people will likely travel to Anchorage for the August meeting, where they will be supported by Alaska-based investigators.
Tuesday’s statement from the NTSB cited Hageland’s record of six Alaska crashes since 2013, including one in November of that year near St. Mary’s that killed four people and an April 2014 training flight near Bethel that killed both pilots on board. Four of those crashes involved “controlled flights into terrain,” board officials said, and a fifth involved flight into instrument meteorological conditions.
Hageland has also participated in a safety program operated by the Medallion Foundation, a non-profit aviation safety group formed in 2001 by the Alaska Air Carriers Association.
Ravn didn’t return a call about the hearing Tuesday morning. The Medallion Foundation’s executive director, Jerry Rock, was traveling and unavailable for comment.
No list of witnesses set to testify at the meeting was available Tuesday, but O’Neil confirmed that the event was scheduled for only a single day. He didn’t have word on whether Ravn, Hageland or Medallion Foundation representatives were slated to speak.
An overview of issues to be discussed at the August meeting, provided by the NTSB, included:
• Operational control at Hageland Aviation, including its FAA oversight, organizational structure, policies and procedures, and training and guidance for operational control agents.
• Pilot training and guidance related to deteriorating weather conditions to mitigate controlled flight into terrain risk, including the incorporation of lessons learned from previous controlled flight into terrain accidents.
• Safety management, training and oversight resources available to the Alaskan aviation community.
Although online video streaming has reduced the board’s need to convene remote hearings, O’Neil said the NTSB used to require that meetings be held near crash sites to facilitate testimony from locals – a practice that can still be useful.
“There are cases where it makes great sense, as it does in this one, to bring the board to where the people are,” O’Neil said. “It makes sense to have that discussion in Alaska, where the aviation community can come to hear that discussion, and look into the issues that come up with preventing controlled flight into terrain.”
The hearing will take place at 8 a.m. on Aug. 17, in the Mid-Deck Ballroom of the Hotel Captain Cook on 5th Avenue. The NTSB will have a live stream of the hearing on its website at that time, and post a video of the hearing there for the next 30 days.
Heather Hintze contributed information to this story.