Pilot identified in fatal Hillside plane crash
Last updated at 11:25 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 11
The Anchorage Police Department says a float plane crashed near O’Malley Road on Hillside. APD confirmed the pilot, 75-year-old James Hefty, did not survive the crash.
AFD Assistant Chief Erich Scheunemann said fire crews on scene had confirmed Hefty was the only person onboard when the plane crashed. National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Clint Johnson said a dog was also onboard and died as well.
APD said multiple calls were made to 911 reporting the crash around 4:30 p.m., spokeswoman Jennifer Castro said in a phone interview. The crash occurred in the area of Crooked Creek Drive and O’Malley Road, officials said.
Scheunemann confirmed the aircraft was on fire, but has since been put out.
“It appears no residential homes were affected by the crash,” police said in a statement.
Roger Heiligenthal was walking his dog Chinook when he heard the plane overhead.
“He circled once and then a second time,” Heiligenthal said. “And as he’s circling, instead of flying level with the horizon — I’m not a pilot — but he was sort of tipped like this, so the wings were tipped inward and he kept circling as if he might have been in distress.”
Heiligenthal said when the pilot circled a third time, he knew there was a problem.
“The next thing I know, he was right there in front of us. Hit the trees, and just came barreling in,” he recalled.
The plane crashed through trees and came to rest on the roadway near Heiligenthal, catching fire.
“I kept yelling and yelling, ‘help, help!'” he said. “Called 911 and they were there in less than five minutes.”
Carolyn Nickles said she also witnessed the crash after hearing the plane pass by.
“I stood up and decided to go around that house and that’s when I saw the plane nose dive,” she said. “I didn’t see the whole plane. I knew it was definitely going to go. And then the huge impact afterwards.”
Heiligenthal said he believes if he had gone on his walk a minute later, he and Chinook would likely have been victims as well.
“I had no clue that he was going to be coming in my direction,” he said. “But it happened so fast and I’m just thankful for myself and my dog but I’m also grieving for the family of the pilot. I do grieve for the family because it’s just one of those things that you never know. You never know.”
The NTSB and the Federal Aviation Administration have been notified of the crash and are investigating. Johnson said the scene would cleared by the end of the night and the wreckage moved to a hangar for further examination.
He said the plane has been identified as a homebuilt “Polar Cub,” which is similar to a Piper Super Cub plane in structure and appearance. Johnson said it was too early in the investigation to rule anything out for the cause of the crash, and they have not yet identified any major contributions.
The NTSB is asking that if anyone witnessed the crash or saw the plane flying in the area just prior to the crash to please call 907-782-4849 if they have not already been interviewed.
This is a developing story, please check back for updates.
KTVA 11’s Eric Ruble and Shannon Riddle contributed to this report.