'We're all injured': NTSB report details pilot's final plea for help after 2018 Denali crash
Just over a year after what is believed to be the deadliest civilian airplane crash ever in Denali National Park and Preserve, the National Transportation Safety Board has released its factual report describing what happened the day of the crash and in the moments after the impact.
On Aug. 4, 2018, a 1957 de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver operated by K2 Aviation out of Talkeetna carrying a pilot and four Polish tourists crashed into Thunder Mountain, about 14 miles southwest of the Denali summit, at an altitude of 11,000 feet.
The report shares conversations among three people: K2 pilot Craig Layson, who was operating the plane; K2 pilot William "Billy" Janus who was at the air carrier’s base office and K2 flight follower Jeremiah Nill. Flight followers perform duties similar to air traffic controllers but don’t have the same certifications, responsibilities or legal liabilities.
At around 6 p.m., a call came into the base office and Janus was handed the phone. On the other end, about 50 miles northwest of Talkeetna, was Layson. The report details their conversation:
• "Craig, this is Billy."
• "We've run into the side of the mountain. Do you know where I am?"
• "Yes, we have you on the satellite tracker. We're coming to get you. Here's Jeremiah."
The phone is handed over to flight tracker Nill, the report continues:
Mr. Nill: "Craig, can you hear me?"
Mr. Layson: "We need help."
Mr. Nill: "We're getting help. Keep the satellite phone on."
Mr. Layson: "I'll try."
The call then dropped. According to the report, Nill made repeated attempts to reach Layson and was able to connect one more time:
Mr. Nill: "Are there any injuries?"
Mr. Layson: "We are all injured. I am wedged into the front of the airplane."
Mr. Nill: "Are there any fatalities?"
Mr. Layson: "I'm not sure. I believe possibly two."
The call then dropped; that was the last voice contact with the downed aircraft.
Due to weather conditions, rescuers were not immediately able to get to the plane.
A helicopter crew was cleared two days after the crash to locate the wreckage. It was found in a crevasse on a hanging glacier. The placement of the wreckage made it too dangerous to remove, so the bodies of all five on board were never recovered.
The report states that on April 5, 2019, National Park Service rangers on an assessment flight reported that, during the winter, the glacier where the plane crashed had calved. That released an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 tons of ice and debris, the report states.
Now, the wreckage is no longer visible on the mountain face or in the surface debris at the base of Thunder Mountain.
The factual report states there was no morning safety meeting on Aug. 4, 2018. The meetings are light conversations routinely held to discuss issues that may arise during the day such as weather or issues with an aircraft, equipment or staffing.
The report also states the pilots on sightseeing tours like the one Layson was leading do not follow a specific route and have the opportunity to take a path they see fit for the conditions.
The plane that crashed had a total service time of 15,495.6 flight hours. The engine was overhauled 1,113.4 hours before the crash and had a total of 2,471.6 service hours. The airplane had accrued 48.6 hours flight hours since its last 100-hour inspection.
Layson is described as an experienced pilot who was well-liked and took care of his plane. The report states he was in it on his own time every day.
In a written statement issued Oct. 31, the company stated:
"It has been over a year since the tragic accident involving our plane, our friend and pilot Craig Layson, and our passengers. We continue to hold the families in our thoughts, especially as they read the NTSB report. Additionally, we appreciate the NTSB's ongoing efforts and we are cooperating fully with the agency as they continue their investigation.”
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