Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Cessna 172 Skyhawk, N63541: Fatal accident occurred April 20, 2016 near Birchwood Airport (PABV), Chugiak, Anchorage, Alaska

National Transportation Safety Board - Aviation Accident Preliminary Report: 

FAA Flight Standards District Office:  FAA Anchorage FSDO-03

NTSB Identification: ANC16FA019
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Wednesday, April 20, 2016 in Chugiak, AK
Aircraft: CESSNA 172, registration: N63541
Injuries: 4 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On April 20, 2016, about 0900 Alaska daylight time, a Cessna 172 airplane, N63541, sustained substantial damage after impacting tree-covered terrain about 2 miles southwest of the Birchwood Airport, Chugiak, Alaska. The airplane was registered to the pilot, and operated by 70 North LLC, Anchorage, Alaska, as a visual flight rules (VFR) aerial photography flight under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91. The airline transport pilot and three passengers sustained fatal injuries. The flight departed from the Birchwood Airport about 0840. Visual meteorological conditions (VMC) prevailed at the time of the accident, and company flight following procedures were in effect for the local area flight. 

According to the operator's manager, the purpose of the flight was to do aerial surveying and photography over an area of land adjacent to the west edge of the airport property. The Birchwood Airport is located adjacent to the shoreline of the Knik Arm. 

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator-in-charge (IIC), along with three Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) aviation safety inspectors, reached the accident site on the morning of April 20. The wreckage path was located in an area of dense spruce and birch trees with thick underbrush, at an elevation of about 230 feet mean sea level (msl). 

The main fuselage and associated debris path were oriented on a 275-degree heading from a damaged 100-foot-tall spruce tree, which is believed to be the initial impact point. (All headings/bearings noted in this report are true.) 

The main wreckage came to rest about 480 feet west of the spruce tree, and the debris path between the tree and the main wreckage site displayed signs of extensive fuselage fragmentation. Debris consisting of small pieces of plexiglas, aluminum, a door frame assembly, and various landing gear components were in the debris path. All of the airplane's major components were located at the main wreckage site. A postcrash fire incinerated a majority of the airplane's fuselage. 

A preliminary review of archived FAA air traffic control radar data revealed that the airplane departed from the Birchwood Airport and headed south for about 1.5 miles, then it turned west and completed a 360-degree turn at altitudes between about 1,500 to about 1,800 feet msl in an area less than a mile south of Beach Lake. The airplane then continued west toward the Knik Arm shoreline. Upon reaching the shoreline, the airplane completed a series of turning maneuvers at altitudes ranging between about 2,000 to about 2,400 feet msl before it proceeded northeast (generally along the Knik Arm shoreline), overflew the Birchwood Airport, and continued generally northeast for about 4 miles. The airplane then turned southwest, again flew over the airport, and continued southwest and back to the same area along the Knik Arm shoreline where it had completed its previous turning maneuvers. From an altitude of about 1,300 feet msl, the airplane began a right turning maneuver during which it descended to about 900 feet msl before exiting the turn about 1,100 feet msl and proceeding to the southeast. The data track showed that the airplane proceeded southeast for about 1 mile at an altitude of about 1,100 feet msl before its last data position. The last position from the radar data indicated that the airplane was about 800 feet msl, with a ground speed of about 102 knots, and traveling on about a 126-degree track.

The airplane was equipped with a Lycoming O-320 series engine. A detailed examination is pending. 

At 0806, an aviation routine weather report (METAR) from the Birchwood Airport, about 2 miles northeast of the accident site, reported, in part: Wind calm; sky condition overcast clouds at 8,000 feet; visibility 9 statute miles; temperature 39 degrees F, dew point 30 degrees F; altimeter, 30.04 inHg.

Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board investigation may contact them by email,  and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email

Sarah Glaves

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A small airplane hit a bald eagle before it crashed just north of Anchorage, Alaska, last month, killing all four people on board.

An investigator says it’s the nation’s first civilian plane crash to result in deaths after an impact with a bald eagle.

Shaun Williams with the National Transportation Safety Board says there have been other crashes involving eagle strikes that resulted in serious injuries, not deaths.

The pilot, co-pilot and two passengers died when the plane went down April 20 near a small airport about 20 miles north of Anchorage.

Williams says an unknown substance was later found on the aircraft. Analysis at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., determined some of it was feathers and other materials that came from an immature bald eagle.

PALMER -- The small plane that crashed near Chugiak Wednesday morning, killing four people -- including the former National Transportation Safety Board investigator at the controls -- was headed for a nearby survey project in the area of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

Pilot George Kobelnyk, 64; co-pilot Christian Bohrer, 20; and surveyors Kyle Braun, 27, and Sarah Glaves, 36, died in the crash of Kobelnyk’s Cessna 172P around 9 a.m., shortly after taking off from the Birchwood Airport.

Braun and Glaves both worked for TerraSond, a ground and ocean surveyor headquartered in an industrial area on the south side of Palmer. The firm has 55 employees and offices in Seattle, Texas and Mexico.  

“It’s just a complete shock. Our company is stunned by all of this,” Scott Schillinger, TerraSond’s general counsel, said around noon Thursday. “It’s just absolutely devastating to us.”

The pair was on the first day of a survey next to JBER, not far from the airport where they took off, Schillinger said.

Federal investigators finished their on-scene work by noon Thursday and removed the wreckage scattered over a 100-yard debris field west of Beach Lake Road near Chugiak, according to NTSB investigator Shaun Williams. The wreckage was taken to a secure facility in the Valley where it will be examined.

The investigation into the crash is still in its infancy. Williams said he expected a preliminary report to be released next week, but the more comprehensive factual report and ensuing probable cause finding are still 12 or 13 months away. 

One witness to the plane's takeoff has spoken with the Federal Aviation Administration, but Williams said he had yet to interview them. 

Investigating a fatal crash involving a former NTSB investigator is no different than any other aviation incident in which someone dies, he said.

"All accidents with fatalities are difficult," he said. "Every victim, it's somebody a family is missing ... We have to think of that at all times. Everybody is hurting."

Braun, 27, grew up in Butte and loved outdoor activities and photography. He was caring for his mother after his father’s death last year. He worked as a drafter for TerraSond.

Braun posted a Thanksgiving greeting on Facebook last November: “Take time today to remember all of the great things in life and how fortunate we are to have all we have. Pay thanks to being surrounded by loved ones or people we hold close to our hearts. Enjoy every moment of time and pay it forward to those whom are less fortunate.”

Glaves, 36, has family on the Kenai Peninsula and was an avid painter and musician. She played flute in Mat-Su Concert Band, where she was a steady but fun-loving musician talented enough to participate in a small ensemble. 

State Sen. Peter Micciche, who represents Soldotna, met Glaves when they took a class together at Kenai Peninsula College. He called her a “brilliant young woman” who helped put together a trio and surfaced at many musical gatherings.

“Pretty much everything Sarah did made the world a better place,” Micciche said.

TerraSond’s Palmer offices were somber on Thursday. Employees were still trying to deal with the sudden loss of Braun and Glaves.

“Both of them really are irreplaceable,” Schillinger said.

Kobelnyk, a veteran NTSB investigator, left that agency in the 1990s to serve as a senior manager with the Federal Aviation Administration. He remained a highly certificated pilot who flew daily, family members said.

Bohrer was a Chugiak native and avid aviator who played high school baseball and loved to take pictures from his plane. A junior majoring in mathematics at the University of Alaska Anchorage, Bohrer was a member of the Seawolf Debate Team and made it to the final round of the March competition.

Zaz Hollander serves on the board of directors for the Mat-Su Concert Band, where Sarah Glaves was also a member.

Original article can be found here:

The pilot of a small plane that crashed near Chugiak Wednesday morning with four aboard was a former National Transportation Safety Board investigator with extensive aviation experience in Alaska.

Anchorage Fire Department Chief Dennis LeBlanc said the crash, off Beach Lake Road, was reported shortly after 9 a.m. There were no survivors.

“An aircraft was found fully engulfed in flames,” LeBlanc said. “There are four fatalities.”

Anchorage police identified the victims of the crash Wednesday afternoon as pilot George Kobelnyk, 54, and co-pilot Christian Bohrer, 20. The two passengers were Sarah Glaves, 36, and Kyle Braun, 27.

The aircraft was registered to Kobelnyk, based on a tail number provided by National Transportation Safety Board investigator Shaun Williams. Kobelnyk had worked for both the NTSB and the Federal Aviation Administration in Alaska, according to his wife.

FAA spokesperson Allen Kenitzer said the plane crashed under "unknown circumstances."

Williams said at a 3 p.m. news conference that the debris field spanned about 100 yards. The plane was in pieces in a densely-wooded area of birch and spruce trees. 

It had taken off from the Birchwood Airport. He said one witness had watched the plane take off, but Williams had not yet spoken with that person. The plane crashed a few miles south of the airport around 9:05 a.m. with four people onboard, Williams said.

"The airplane fragmented upon impact with some of the trees," he said. "We'll know more once we start moving the wreckage."

Chugiak Volunteer Fire and Rescue Chief Clifton Dalton said he received word of a plane crash at 9:07 a.m., when a citizen reported hearing the crash and seeing a plume of black smoke.

Deborah Schaffer, a volunteer staying in an RV space at Birchwood Camp not far from the crash site, said she didn’t see the plane go down, but heard it.

Schaffer said she heard a plane fly “really low” overhead despite nearby power lines, and then heard the plane sputter, followed by a loud thud. She pulled on shoes and a jacket and ran outside.

“I could see black smoke,” she said. “That’s when I called it in.”

Dalton said firefighters drove on two four-wheelers roughly a half-mile down mushing trails in the area before discovering the scene: a fiery plane crash in a thickly forested area west of Beach Lake Road.

Virginia McMichael of Chugiak Volunteer Fire and Rescue said shortly after the crash that firefighters had to hike and use ATVs to reach the site. McMichael said the plane had ignited a brush fire, but crews were dealing with it. Nine units were at the scene shortly after the crash, she said.

Firefighters had the flames under control in 10 or 15 minutes, Dalton said..

"We were fortunate it wasn't a super dry day," he said. He said the plane was "destroyed" and there were no signs of survivors.

The fire could make the investigation more difficult, Williams said.

"Following the impact there was a post-crash fire and that takes away a lot of our evidence," Williams said. "So we have to go back to what we do have and work from there."

By 1:30 p.m., The bodies of four adults were recovered from the scene, according to Dalton. They were carried out from the crash site along muddy trails on the back of a four-wheeler.

'He could do it all'

George Kobelnyk’s wife, Susan Kobelnyk, said her husband was "a very experienced aviator" who flew daily. He previously worked for NTSB and the FAA, she said.

“Otherwise, he’s just a guy who loved his family,” Susan Kobelnyk said.

George Kobelnyk served as the president of the Mustang Hockey Association in the early to mid-1990s, said acquaintance Chuck Homan. Kobelnyk volunteered his time to coach and referee youth hockey teams, Homan said.

“He was very dedicated to the association,” he said.

Current NTSB Alaska region chief Clint Johnson, who started with the agency in 1998, said he actually took Kobelnyk's place at the Alaska office. Kobelnyk had left a few years earlier to work as a senior manager for the FAA.

“He was a very good investigator,” Johnson said. “He was a real champion for safety. It’s a sad day for the Alaska office of NTSB.”

Kobelnyk is listed as the only contact for Alaska Aviation Adventures on the company website. The company provides mountain flying and flight instruction, flightseeing and other services, according to its website.

Kobelnyk held multiple certifications, including as a flight instructor and transport pilot, according to a federal pilot registration database. He also held multi-engine airline and helicopter certifications.

"He did everything," Susan Kobelnyk said. "He could do it all."

Questions remain

Many questions about the crash remained unanswered by Wednesday afternoon. Williams said he did not have information on where the plane was headed or what caused it to crash. 

Williams said the plan was to return Thursday to recover the wreckage and transfer it to a storage location for further investigation. He said representatives from Cessna Aircraft Company and Lycoming Engines would assist with the investigation.

"No two airplanes come apart the same way. So that's a challenge. We have to sit there and go through every single piece, look at every break, every bend in the metal to determine exactly what caused this unfortunate event," he said.

Original article can be found here:

Authorities are recovering the bodies of those killed in a Wednesday morning plane crash near Birchwood, with aviation investigators on scene.

The crash was reported just after 9 a.m. in a densely wooded area, off of mushing trails in the Birchwood, Chugiak area, said Chugiak Volunteer Fire and Rescue Chief Clifton Dalton.

FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer told KTUU the plane was a Cessna 172 with four people on board. He said that information was based on reports from local authorities.

Dalton declined to talk about the number of deceased, citing the ongoing effort to notify next of kin. There are no signs of survivors, he said.

The general area, Beach Lake Road, is about 20 miles northwest of Anchorage. The fire was quickly extinguished and did not significantly burn the surrounding area, Dalton said.

11 A.M. UPDATE:  The chief of a volunteer fire department that drove ATVs to reach the remote site of a fiery plane crash today near Birchwood said there is no reason to believe anyone survived the crash.

The cause of the crash, reported just after 9 a.m. near dog mushing trails off of Beach Lake Road, is unknown.

FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer told KTUU the plane was a Cessna 172 with four people on board. He said that information was based on reports from local authorities.

The chief of the Anchorage Fire Department had said initial reports made to emergency dispatchers were of four dead.

However, Chugiak Volunteer Fire and Rescue Chief Clifton Dalton, interviewed near the site of the crash, said the number of fatalities was not immediately known to rescuers on the scene.

Beach Lake Road is about 20 miles northwest of Anchorage. The fire has been extinguished and did not significantly burn the surrounding area, Dalton said.

Dalton said firefighters have not identified anyone involved in the crash.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigator is on the scene. That agency is attempting to identify the tail number of the plane.

An automated weather update from Birchwood Airport at 9:50 a.m. describes calm winds in the area and an overcast sky with cloud cover at 8,000 feet.

UPDATE:  Anchorage Fire Department Chief Denis LeBlanc said initial reports from the scene of the crash indicate "that there were four fatalities."

LeBlanc said that information is based on reports to dispatchers from the site of the fiery crash near Beach Lake Road, north of Anchorage.

"The plane was reported to be fully engulfed," LeBlanc said. The Chugiak volunteer fire department is responding with seven units.

Police spokeswoman Jennifer Castro said the crash was first reported at about 9:05 a.m. Smoke was seen in the area, leading to the firefighter response.

ORIGINAL POST:  Anchorage police say they are responding to a plane crash this morning near Beach Lake Road. Firefighters and the National Transportation Safety Board is also investigating. Please avoid the area.

Story and video:

Shaun Williams of National Transportation Safety Board arrives to investigate a fatal airplane crash Wednesday morning, April 20, 2016, off Beach Lake Road near Chugiak.

Chugiak Volunteer Fire Chief Clifton Dalton.

National Transportation Safety Board investigator Shaun Williams speaks at the scene of a fatal plane crash near Chugiak, Alaska on April 20, 2016.

At 9:08 a.m., just after police say the crash was first reported, smoke can be seen on the horizon. FAA weather camera photo.

Mud dripping from a 4-wheeler that went to the aircraft crash scene. Firefighters say trail conditions are rough.

CHUGIAK – At least four people are dead in a Chugiak plane crash, Anchorage Fire Department chief Denis LeBlanc said after talking to officials on scene. 

According to LaBlanc, the Chugiak Fire Department responded to the crash, near Beach Lake Road by the Birchwood Airport, with seven emergency response apparatuses and had not requested the service of Anchorage fire officials.   

The crash occurred in a heavily wooded area and the plane was fully engulfed in flames, according to Chugiak Fire Department chief Cliffton Dalton. Chugiak firefighters were able to contain the blaze and prevented it from spreading, he added.

Emergency responders could only access the scene by four-wheeler. The crash site is not accessible by road.

The Anchorage Police Department and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) were also responding, police said.

An NTSB investigator arrived at the scene shortly before 10:30 a.m.

“The plan right now, we are going to conduct an initial on scene (investigation) to determine the tail number of the plane, how many occupants and start trying to piece things back together,” said NTSB investigator Shaun Williams. “At that point we will move into another phase, where we start looking at the wreckage in more detail, once it has been recovered.”

Story and video:

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