A witness in the area at the time of last month’s fatal plane crash near Moose Pass says visibility was low because of wildfire smoke and weather camera images show how thick the smoke was.

Photos taken from a Federal Aviation Administration weather camera about seven miles southeast of the accident site show a vast difference between conditions in the area at the time of the crash and what the same view looks like on a clear day.

An FAA weather camera shows smoky conditions around the time of a fatal plane crash near Moose Pass on June 28, 2019. Credit: NTSB

  

An FAA weather camera shows smoky conditions around the time of a fatal plane crash near Moose Pass on June 28, 2019. Credit: NTSB

Alaska State Troopers in Seward were notified just after 4 p.m. on Friday, June 28 that an emergency location transmitter was activated in the mountains nearby.

Pararescuers with the Alaska Air National Guard responded and found one surviving passenger who was airlifted to the hospital. The pilot and two other passengers didn’t survive.

In the National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report on the crash released Wednesday, the witness said he was at the intersection of the Seward and Sterling Highways when heard an airplane flying and that it sounded “as if it was ‘maneuvering under power’” for about 15 seconds before everything went quiet.

“He said that the smoke from a nearby wildfire was very thick in the valley with a vertical visibility of about 100 ft and an estimated horizontal visibility of about ¼ of a mile,” the report states.

The NTSB’s investigator in charge reviewed the GPS logs from the flight and found that the flight had been at altitudes between 1,700 and 2,400 feet. Then, after passing the intersection of the Seward and Sterling Highways, the aircraft turned 180 degrees to the southwest and then descended to an altitude of 1,215 feet. One minute later, the airplane turned toward the north and started to climb.

The last fully-recorded in-flight data point was at an altitude of 1,587 feet and speed of 0 knots.

The Alaska Mountain Rescue Group reached the accident site on Sunday, June 30, according to the report.

“The airplane impacted in a near vertical attitude in an area of alder brush and tundra-covered terrain, at an elevation of about 1,546 ft mean sea level,” the report reads.

Officials plan to perform a detailed examination of the airplane after it’s recovered.

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