A Regal Air pilot flying just 20 minutes behind another company pilot who crashed and died near Rainy Pass last month deemed the same route too dangerous amid “marginal” visual flight conditions, federal investigators said.

The crash which claimed 67-year-old Carl Oberg’s life, just after 10:30 a.m. on Sept. 24, was the subject of a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board released over the weekend. Oberg, the pilot and sole occupant of the Cessna 206, was the third Regal Air pilot to die in a 14-month period after crashes near Willow and Lake Clark Pass.

According to the NTSB, both Oberg’s plane and a Regal Air flight by the company’s chief pilot, Bruce Schulte, had left the Lake Hood Seaplane Base in Anchorage on the morning of the crash. Oberg, the crashed Cessna's sole occupant, had been delivering 400 pounds of lumber to a private airstrip on the southwest side of the Alaska Range, with Schulte flying the same flight path about 20 minutes behind him.

The final Sept. 24, 2018 route of Regal Air pilot Carl Oberg's plane before the crash that killed him, based on Spidertracks tracking data. (Credit: From NTSB)

The two pilots were in radio contact for most of the flight, discussing clouds and weather conditions in the area and how Oberg was able to fly through certain areas of the route ahead. A weather report just after 8:45 a.m. from Rainy Pass, about 13 miles east of Oberg’s crash site, included 7 miles visibility and winds at 12 to 18 knots as well as scattered clouds at 1,200 feet and overcast clouds at 4,000 feet.

The owner of the Rainy Pass Lodge told investigators he was able to make radio contact with Oberg and relay some weather observations.

“He stated that he could see Long Lake Hills from [Rainy Pass], which is 8 miles southeast, and that the cloud coverage to the southeast was a lot more significant than it was to the northwest near Rainy Pass, which appeared to be dissipating,” NTSB officials wrote.

Schulte heard only Oberg’s side of the conversation with the lodge owner, shortly before Oberg fell silent flying into the mountainous area.

“[Schulte] lost radio contact with the accident pilot about [10:30 a.m.] and assumed that he had proceeded into Rainy Pass and no longer had line of sight for radio contact,” NTSB officials wrote. “When [Schulte] reached Long Lake Hills he did not feel comfortable continuing the flight due to the low clouds so he turned around and proceeded back to [Lake Hood].”

Regal Air officials were monitoring Oberg’s aircraft using GPS-based Spidertracks tracking data, and alerted rescue authorities when the plane stopped moving at 10:31 a.m. An Alaska Air National Guard rescue mission found the crashed Cessna on a mountainside at an altitude of 4,700 feet, roughly 3 and a half miles southwest of Goodman Pass.

“The first responders reported that the rescue helicopter's rotor wash blew the wreckage off its perch and it slid down the face of the slope to its final resting point,” NTSB officials wrote. “A debris path of airplane wreckage was found along the slope leading to the main wreckage.”

Guard officials said pararescuemen had to hike into a crevasse before they could reach the crash site. 

The wrecked plane was recovered on Sept. 28 for further examination, according to the NTSB.

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