NTSB: Pilot blames autopilot in Atqasuk crash
The Hageland Aviation pilot who crashed on a mail run near the North Slope village of Atqasuk last week said the plane had gone into an unrecoverable dive after its autopilot failed, according to investigators.
The National Transportation Safety Board has posted its preliminary report on the Wednesday crash of the Cessna 208B Caravan, which had been on a Ravn Connect flight to Atqasuk from Utqiagvik – formerly known as Barrow – about 60 miles north. The crash occurred at about 8:15 a.m., prompted a response from North Slope Borough search and rescue assets to pick up the pilot, who suffered minor injuries according to the NTSB.
The pilot told the NTSB that about two miles from the Atqasuk airport, a tone sounded indicating that the plane’s autopilot had disengaged – which “was immediately followed by the pilot's control column pitching forward.”
“The pilot said that he was unable to pull the control column back, and the airplane subsequently descended into instrument meteorological conditions,” NTSB officials wrote. “He said that the airplane continued to descend into the fog, then it struck the snow-covered tundra, and nosed over.”
No signal from the plane’s 406 MHz emergency locator transmitter was received by rescue agencies. The pilot, who suffered minor injuries according to the NTSB, was able to call for help on his cellphone.
A North Slope Borough helicopter pilot who responded to the call told the NTSB he had seen “ice fog, reduced visibility, and flat light conditions” en route to the crash site. Ice forming on the windshield forced the chopper to return to Utqiagvik, and the pilot was ultimately rescued by Atqasuk searchers on snowmachines.
Ravn Connect initially suggested the aircraft had been “forced to land” rather than crash, and claimed the pilot was uninjured.
The crash came a day after the NTSB found technology and training issues had contributed to another Hageland Caravan's crash in October 2016 near Togiak, which left both pilots and their sole passenger dead.
Clint Johnson, the NTSB’s Alaska chief, said Tuesday that the investigation was still in its preliminary phases.
“We have to go with what the pilot said in the initial interview,” Johnson said. “We are going to launch a six or seven-member team to (Utqiagvik) to take a look at that airplane.”
In addition to examining the wreckage of the plane, Johnson said, the team will also be harvesting the plane’s black boxes and “putting a rush on getting them evaluated” due to the Caravan’s widespread use in Alaska aviation.
“The 208 is really a mainstay plane up here, so we take a failure like this seriously and we're going to give it everything we've got,” Johnson said.
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