NTSB hopes to retrieve plane after fatal midair crash
A day after a deadly midair collision over the Mat-Su, which one pilot survived by making an emergency landing in Anchorage, investigators are still learning more about the events which led up to it.
National Transportation Safety Board investigator Brice Banning, who is handling the Wednesday crash near the mouth of the Susitna River that claimed 56-year-old Wasilla man James Poelman’s life, spoke with reporters Thursday. He said Poelman had been flying a scheduled Cessna 207 flight for regional air taxi service Spernak Airways from Merrill Field to Tyonek, across Cook Inlet to the west.
Spernak Airways officials weren’t immediately available for comment on the collision.
Poelman’s plane slammed into the river, leaving only part of its fuselage and one of its landing wheels visible above the water, in photos released Thursday by Alaska State Troopers. His body has been recovered from the crash site.
According to Clint Johnson, the NTSB’s Alaska chief, investigators hoped to retrieve the plane’s wreckage Thursday, but conditions at the crash site were more complicated than expected.
“It’s going to take a boat and probably a helicopter to get it out,” Johnson said.
Banning said the surviving Cessna 175 pilot who landed safely at the Lake Hood airstrip – identified by troopers Thursday as 53-year-old Anchorage resident Bruce Markwood – had been en route from a remote fish camp back to Anchorage at the time of the collision just after noon Wednesday. He flew around the crash site several times before returning to Anchorage.
An audio transcript recorded by LiveATC.net of radio traffic between Markwood and Lake Hood’s control tower includes him telling controllers, “I've got a real bad vibration – I can't climb any higher.” He had originally planned to set the plane down on Lake Hood, because the Cessna had lost its left landing gear in the collision, but changed his mind as he was inbound to Anchorage.
“I'm starting to lose this airplane, so I'm going to go right into the strip,” Markwood told controllers.
The plane recovered slightly as he returned, however, and controllers at Lake Hood asked the pilot to circle the tower before landing so they could perform a visual inspection.
“Your right nose gear and your right main are intact but they're not straight,” a controller told Markwood.
Soon afterward, the Cessna set down in a landing recorded on video by pilot and KTVA viewer Matt Tomter.
Tomter said Wednesday that he was in a plane flying back from Girdwood when he overheard radio traffic from the collision.
“We just happened to land at Lake Hood about two minutes before he did, so we just parked the plane and filmed the landing,” Tomter said. “One of the landing gear legs was missing, and the other gear legs were bent.”
Tomter didn’t have word on what happened during the collision, but praised Wednesday’s landing.
“The guy came in and did a good job, did what he was supposed to do, kept the nose up,” Tomter said.
Lake Hood’s airstrip was temporarily closed by emergency responders as they secured the aircraft and removed it from the field.
Although full NTSB reports on collisions can take a year or more to complete, Banning hoped to have a preliminary report on Wednesday’s crash available within the next week.
Scott Gross, Liz Thomas and John Thompson contributed information to this story.
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