Troopers ID pilot in fatal crash near Whittier
The pilot who died in a plane crash near Whittier Saturday has been identified, authorities say.
Brett Andrews, 31, of Anchorage was the sole occupant of the aircraft, which the Federal Aviation Administration's registry shows was registered to him, according to an Alaska State Troopers dispatch. His remains were recovered early Sunday morning.
National Transportation Safety Board investigator Noreen Price said the Piper Cherokee was heading east around 9:30 a.m. on Saturday when it crashed head-on into a mountainside about half a mile south of Whittier at an altitude of 2,000 feet.
A preliminary NTSB report on the crash, issued Thursday, described Andrews as a student pilot on a flight to move the plane from Merrill Field in Anchorage to Valdez for the summer.
Clint Johnson, the NTSB’s Alaska chief, said Thursday that Andrews had been flying for about a year before his death.
Air traffic control records from the Federal Aviation Administration, the NTSB report said, show that Andrews took off from Anchorage just before 9 a.m. Saturday. At 9:16 a.m., he reported reaching the Bird Creek area on the trip, which “requires flight through numerous mountain passes.”
“No further radio communications were received from the pilot,” NTSB officials wrote.
Images from Whittier and Portage Glacier weather cameras Saturday morning showed “low cloud ceilings with obscured mountain tops in the area near the accident site,” according to the report. Johnson said a meteorologist will be examining those images and what role, if any, weather played in the crash.
Rescue groups received a prompt signal relayed by satellite from the aircraft’s 406 MHz emergency locator transmitter at about 9:40 a.m., but didn’t know it was Andrews’ flight until family members reported him overdue just after 3:30 p.m.
The 11th Air Force’s Rescue Coordination Center began dispatching Civil Air Patrol flights to the area in response to the initial signal, including a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter crew which spotted the crash site at about 9:15 p.m.
“[An Alaska Air National Guard] helicopter lowered a pararescueman to the site and he observed that the pilot had received fatal injuries,” NTSB officials wrote. “The following day, the Alaska State Troopers search and rescue command coordinated the recovery of the pilot by the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group and the Alaska Department of Public Safety Helo-3.”
The NTSB report mentioned that the ELT’s identifying information, which federal regulations state should be updated whenever an aircraft or transmitter changes hands as well as every two years afterward, was apparently out of date.
“However, the registered owner on file was a foreign government entity and the recovered ELT unit was placarded with a country code for Ireland,” NTSB officials wrote.
Johnson emphasized that rescuers weren’t delayed by the information issue, which the NTSB has seen in previous Alaska crashes. He urged aviators to update information associated with their ELTs – including phone numbers to call in the event of an emergency.
Investigators are looking into how the Piper’s transmitter was acquired and added to Andrews’ aircraft.
“We don’t know if he put it in or the previous owner did,” Johnson said. “[Searchers] knew there was an ELT out there – it didn’t slow them down any, but it didn’t make any sense.”
Liz Raines and Mary Simton contributed to this story.
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