National Transportation Safety Board - Aviation Accident Preliminary Report: http://app.ntsb.gov/pdf
N752RV LLC: http://registry.faa.gov/N752RV
DIOAIR LLC: http://registry.faa.gov/N82452
Scheduled 14 CFR Part 135: Air Taxi & Commuter
Accident occurred Wednesday, August 31, 2016 in Russian Mission, AK
Aircraft: CESSNA 208, registration: N752RV
Injuries: 5 Fatal.
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Wednesday, August 31, 2016 in Russian Mission, AK
Aircraft: PIPER PA 18-150, registration: N82452
Injuries: 5 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 August 31, 2016, about 1001 Alaska daylight time (AKD), a turbine-powered Cessna 208B (Caravan) airplane, N752RV, and a Piper PA-18-150 (Super Cub) airplane, N82452, collided midair while both airplanes were en route about 6.5 miles northwest of the Russian Mission Airport, Russian Mission, Alaska. The Cessna 208B was registered to N752RV, LLC, Fairbanks, Alaska, and operated by Hageland Aviation Services, Inc., dba Ravn Connect, Flight number 3190, a scheduled commuter flight operated under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulation (CFR) Part 135 and visual flight rules (VFR). The Piper PA-18-150 was registered to DioAir, LLC, Bethel, Alaska, and operated as a guided hunting operation flight under the provisions of Title 14 CFR Part 91 and VFR. The airline transport pilot and the two passengers on board the Cessna 208B sustained fatal injuries. The commercial pilot and the sole passenger in the Piper PA-18-150 sustained fatal injuries. Both airplanes sustained substantial damage. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed in the area at the time of the accident. The Cessna 208B departed from Russian Mission Airport about 0958, destined for the Marshall Don Hunter Senior Airport, Marshall, Alaska, and company flight following procedures were in effect. The Piper PA-18-150 departed the Bethel Airport, Bethel, about 0907, destined for a remote hunting camp about 20 miles northwest of Russian Mission, with company flight following procedures in effect.
In a telephone conversation with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator-in-charge (IIC) on September 7, a representative of the operator of the Cessna reported that the flight was scheduled to arrive in Marshall at 1017. When the airplane did not arrive as scheduled, the Ravn Connect operational control center (OCC) initiated overdue airplane procedures. The Ravn Connect OCC contacted the pilots of two company airplanes flying near Russian Mission and provided the pilots with the last latitude and longitude coordinates supplied from the Cessna's automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) system. The two company pilots then flew their airplanes to the area of the last coordinates and obtained visual confirmation of the Cessna wreckage.
In a telephone conversation with the NTSB IIC on September 7, the owner of the hunting/fishing expedition company that operated the Piper reported that he was flying a customer to a remote hunting camp and that he departed from Bethel about 15 minutes after the Piper departed. The operator/owner reported that he delivered his customer to his hunting camp about 1030 and then flew by the hunting camp that was the Piper's destination and observed that the Piper and the occupants were not present. The operator/owner radioed the company headquarters for a status update on the Piper and was supplied the last latitude and longitude coordinates from the company's DeLorme flight following system. The owner/operator flew to the area of the last coordinates and obtained visual confirmation of the Piper wreckage.
The NTSB IIC, two NTSB air safety investigators, and a team of Alaska State Troopers traveled to the accident scene. Both wreckage sites, about 0.5 mile apart, were located in an area of rolling hills with heavy vegetation about 10 feet tall populated with various alder trees, spruce trees, and birch trees. The wreckage for both airplanes was recovered and transported to a secure facility for future examination.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) implemented national ADS-B technology in Alaska, and the Cessna was equipped with an avionics package as part of that program. Formerly known as Capstone, the joint industry/FAA program (which includes ground-based stations, satellites, and airplane avionics) currently provides pilots with situational awareness by displaying the airplane's position over terrain, and warns pilots of the presence of other ADS-B-equipped aircraft which may be present, while using global positioning system (GPS) technology, coupled with an instrument panel mounted, moving map display. The preliminary examination of the ADS-B equipment installed in the Cessna revealed that it included two Garmin multi-function display units, commercially known as the G1000. According to management personnel with Ravn Connect, at the time of the accident, the ADS-B capability of the Cessna consisted of the transmit function only (ADS-B out). ADS-B track data from the Cessna was requested from the FAA.
A Garmin GPSMap 296 unit was recovered from the Piper and shipped to the NTSB vehicle recorder laboratory in Washington, DC. Radar data for the two airplanes was also requested from the FAA.
The closest official weather observation station is located at the Russian Mission Airport. At 0956, an Aviation Routine Weather Report (METAR) reported, in part: wind calm; visibility 10 statute miles; clouds and sky condition clear; temperature 52 degrees F; dew point 46 degrees F; altimeter 30.09 inHg.
Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board investigation may contact them by email firstname.lastname@example.org, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email email@example.com.
Jeff Burruss of Haines was a passenger in a Super Cub plane that was involved in a midair collision Wednesday morning. There were no survivors. Burruss was 40. (Facebook)
Federal investigators planned Thursday to revisit the site of Wednesday's deadly midair collision near Russian Mission, which claimed the lives of five men and left the wreckage of two small planes in rugged terrain near the Western Alaska village.
A Hageland Aviation Cessna 208 Caravan flying from Russian Mission to Marshall collided with a Piper PA-18 Super Cub operated by Renfro's Alaskan Adventures headed from Bethel, according to the Alaska Air National Guard. The crash, about 6 miles northwest of Russian Mission, occurred shortly before 11 a.m. Wednesday.
Alaska State Troopers identified the victims Wednesday night. The Caravan was flown by Wasilla pilot Harry Wrase, 48, and carried passengers Steven Paul Andrew, 32, of Russian Mission and Aaron Jay Minock, 21, of Russian Mission. The Super Cub was flown by Montana resident Zach Justin Babat, 44, and carried Haines passenger Jeff Thomas Burruss, 40.
Renfro's Manager Nate DeHaan said Burruss worked as a hunting and fishing guide for the company. State records show Burruss currently registered as an assistant guide.
Andrew, one of the passengers aboard the Caravan, worked as a ramp agent at Ravn since 2007, his father Tom Andrew said in a phone interview. His immediate family lives on the Kenai Peninsula, he said.
Tom Andrew worked as a public school teacher when his son was growing up and the family lived in multiple Alaska towns including Pilot Station and Kodiak, where Steven Andrew attended school.
The family is originally from Marshall. Steven was headed to the Yukon-Kuskokwim community to moose hunt. He considered the village home, his father said.
"He was a good, kind and loving person," Tom Andrew said.
Clint Johnson, the National Transportation Safety Board's Alaska chief, said Thursday that three NTSB investigators were working on the crash. Two Federal Aviation Administration investigators were also on-site Wednesday, according to FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer.
Crews were only able to reach the Cessna's crash site Wednesday evening, Johnson said. Both NTSB investigators and troopers had to wait for weather to clear in Bethel before they successfully reached the scene Thursday afternoon.
"The conditions where this thing is are very challenging — high alders, steep mountainous terrain only accessible by helicopter," Johnson said. "These guys have their work cut out for them."
Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said the troopers who responded to Russian Mission Wednesday were involved with the recovery of bodies from the crashed aircraft, a task that was continuing Thursday.
Johnson said the Cessna operated by Hageland was equipped with map displays for Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, or ADS-B, which lets pilots see the locations of other nearby aircraft on a screen similar to those used by air traffic controllers. Washington, D.C.-based investigators were working to determine whether the PA-18 operated by Renfro's was also equipped with ADS-B.
ADS-B transmitters will be required for flight in many areas of U.S. airspace by 2020. Johnson said the technology is "widespread" in Alaska, but only displays the location of other ADS-B aircraft.
"Both aircraft has to be ADS-B equipped, so if one has it and the other doesn't, the one that has it won't see the other aircraft," Johnson said.
Hageland Aviation operator Ravn Alaska wasn't immediately able to answer questions Thursday morning. The company said Wednesday that it had established an emergency support number for family and friends of the crash victims at 888-346-7502.
Renfro's released a statement Thursday afternoon about the collision, along with photos of Babat and Burruss, on its Facebook page. The company also offered condolences to the three people killed on board the Hageland aircraft.
"There are no words to express the anguish felt by everyone within the Renfro's Alaskan Adventures family in the wake of this immense loss," Renfro's staff wrote. "Zach and Jeff were amazing men that lived life to the fullest and they will be sorely missed. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families and friends as well as those of Harry, Steven and Aaron. We greatly appreciate the support of the community during this difficult time."
The NTSB is preparing for an extended investigation of the wreckage, due to the difficult terrain and the two separate crash sites involved.
Realistically, our guys will probably be out there through the weekend," Johnson said.
Alaska State Troopers and investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board are heading to the crash sites today.
“Our focus is on body recovery efforts,” said Megan Peters, public information officer for the Alaska State Troopers.
“The NTSB is the agency that actually investigates the cause and circumstances of aircraft crashes.”
The recovered bodies will be sent to the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Anchorage. Alaska State Troopers have identified the two aircraft and the five victims.
The Renfro’s Alaskan Adventure Super Cub flying from Bethel to a hunting camp carried pilot Zach Justin Babat of Montana, 44, and passenger Jeff Thomas Burruss of Haines, 40.
The RAVN C208 Caravan flying from Russian Mission to Marshall carried pilot Harry Wrase of Wasilla, 48, and passengers Aaron Jay Minock of Russian Mission, 21, and Steven Paul Andrew of Kenai, 32.
NTSB Alaska Chief Clint Johnson said the planes crashed about a half-mile away from each other across a terrain of rolling hills and thick alders. Two investigators reached the Caravan crash site Wednesday evening just before dark.
“The briefing I was able to get from Mike Hodges, who was on scene briefly last night, indicated that the airplane is badly fragmented. Didn’t go into any other details,” Johnson said Thursday morning.
With the hike through the dense brush and rapid loss of daylight, the investigators were only at the site a short while.
“What they were able to do,” Johnson said, “was get an idea of what equipment is going to be needed to do their job.”
NTSB investigators are reviewing the limited radar data available from the area. At this point, how the planes collided is unknown.
“Keep in mind that where this accident or mid-air collision took place is in what we refer to as uncontrolled air space where they’re not under control of any air traffic control, or ATC, services at the time,” Johnson said. There is what we refer to as ADSB, which is a type of tracking system. But nevertheless, this accident took place in uncontrolled airspace, so it’s incumbent on each one of the pilots, each one of the flight crews to see and avoid the other airplane.”
Kristen DiMartino was one of the last people to see Wrase, the RAVN pilot, and one of his passengers alive Wednesday. She was one of the three people on the RAVN plane as it flew from Bethel to Russian Mission and remembers Wrase and the other passenger admiring the aircraft.
“I feel like I’m still in shock, because I’ll never get that image out of them being so happy.” DiMartino said. “They were so happy. They were just talking about the plane and literally saying how awesome it was, and then I find out they’re gone.”
The plane dropped DiMartino off in Russian Mission and picked up another passenger before flying north to Marshall. The plane never reached its destination.
His niece, Hannah Nadesta Brown, tells KTUU that her uncle was the pilot of the Hageland plane that crashed after a collision with another aircraft.
Brown said "My uncle had the biggest heart. He truly loved flying and serving the villages. He is going to be missed by so many".
Brown said Wrase lived in Wasilla but grew up in McGrath and leaves behind two children. "We just want people to know that he was an amazing father and he was a good pilot" Brown said. "He loved chess, he was an avid player and went to Vegas every year to compete in the International chess festival."
The names of the crash victims have not been released by officials, but Brown says members of her family have been notified about his death.
Two investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board are expected to arrive later today at the scene of a midair collision in Western Alaska that claimed the lives of five people. A third investigator from Seattle should land in Russian Mission on Thursday, said Clint Johnson, chief of the NTSB’s regional office in Alaska.
The crash occurred approximately six miles northwest of Russian Mission, a Yup'ik Eskimo village along the Yukon River, 376 miles west of Anchorage.
“Preliminary reports indicate the crash sites are accessible only by helicopter,” Johnson said.
The aircraft involved are a Hageland Aviation Cessna 208 Caravan with three people on board and a Renfro’s Alaska Adventures Piper PA-18 Super Cub with two people on board, said Guard spokeswoman Lt. Col. Candis Olmstead.
Olmstead said rolling hills and heavy vegetation define the terrain.
The weather is good with clear skies and temperatures in the low 60s. A National Guard Black Hawk helicopter is responding to the second crash site at this hour, Olmstead said.
One of the aviation companies contacted the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center at 11 a.m. on Wednesday to say that they had lost radio contact with an aircraft and that it was overdue.
Alaska State Troopers contacted the coordination center at 11:15 a.m. to report that a second aircraft was overdue, according to Olmstead.
A third aircraft flying overhead spotted aircraft wreckage on the ground that indicated a mid-air collision between two planes.
Troopers said there were no survivors. The identities of the pilots and passengers have not yet been released.
Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. expressed condolences to the family and friends of those killed in the crash. Emergency clinicians are available for families and loved ones at the corporation's Family Center in Bethel. Behavioral health aides throughout the region's village clinics are also standing by the speak with those affected by the crash. If anyone would like to speak with an emergency clinician, they can call 907-543-6499.
With 5 open National Transportation Safety Board investigations, Ravn Alaska operators under microscope
April 11, 2014
The fatal crash Tuesday of a Cessna Caravan near Bethel is the latest in a string of accidents by longtime air taxi operator Hageland Aviation Services. Hageland -- which now operates as Ravn Connect and is part of the Ravn Alaska “family of airlines” -- has been involved in 29 accidents resulting in 23 deaths over the past 20 years. The latest accident is one of five ongoing National Transportation Safety Board investigations into commercial flights operated under the Ravn Alaska banner.
In another recent accident, an aircraft operated by Hageland crashed outside of St. Marys in late November, killing the pilot and three passengers and leaving six other passengers with serious injuries.
The latest crash joins three other accidents and an incident -- the difference between an accident and an incident is determined by NTSB regulations and involves levels of damage and injury as determined by investigators -- involving Ravn Alaska air group members that are under active investigation by the NTSB. When reviewed as a group, they reveal a pattern of mishaps dating back more than 18 months, which have cumulatively resulted in six deaths.
A series of accidents
According to a preliminary NTSB report, the first of these mishaps occurred in September 2012 when an Era Aviation de Havilland DHC-8 departing Anchorage International Airport experienced “an uncommanded left roll and uncontrolled descent during climb at about 12,000 feet." The flight crew regained control at about 7,000 feet and returned to land. None of the 12 passengers or three crew members were injured.
Due to the size of the aircraft and the nature of the operation -- Era Aviation operates under the more-stringent Part 121 section of the Federal Aviation Regulations due to the size of its aircraft and passenger loads -- this incident was turned over to Washington, D.C.-based NTSB officials for investigation.
Then, in October 2013, an Era Aviation Beechcraft 1900 suffered a collapse of the nose and main landing gear while landing in Homer. The flight crew and 13 passengers were uninjured but the aircraft received substantial damage.
In discussing the events at Anchorage and Homer in a recent phone conversation, Washington D.C.-based NTSB public affairs officer Eric Weiss explained that the investigations will extend as far as possible to understand not only what happened, but why. This could include moving the investigation beyond the individual events and into the overall management of the air group. "If answering the question of why extends to management and the overall safety culture, we will look at that," said Weiss. "We will go wherever the investigation takes us."
On Nov. 22, another Beechcraft 1900, this one operated by Hageland Aviation, hit the elevated edge of the runway surface while landing at Badami Airport near Deadhorse. According to the preliminary report, the right main landing gear separated and the airplane slid along the runway surface, causing substantial damage. Weather in Badami at the time of the accident included heavy blowing snow and broken clouds at 1,000 feet, with a half-mile of visibility.
Five days later, Era Alaska Flight 1453 -- operated by Hageland Aviation -- departed Bethel and crashed within 40 minutes near St. Marys, resulting in those four fatalities and six injuries. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed at St. Marys when the flight was dispatched, with a ceiling of 300 feet and an overcast sky at the time of the crash. Despite conditions requiring instrument navigation, flight 1453 was operating under visual flight rules. The Badami, St. Marys and recent Bethel accident are all under investigation by the Anchorage NTSB office.
According to investigator Clint Johnson, those accidents are all in the fact-gathering stage. Once analysis of those facts has taken place, the NTSB will look at the carrier as a whole to consider, for example, if there are overall concerns with pilot training, maintenance, oversight by the Federal Aviation Administration or other factors.
"At this point we are working on a case-by-case basis," Johnson said.
The FAA has increased surveillance of the Hageland operation in Bethel since the St. Marys accident. While officials could not confirm any possible enforcement action against the company in the wake of the most recent fatal crash, the FAA asserted that its policy is to “explore all options to address our enforcement responsibilities."
Both Hageland Aviation and Era Aviation are cooperating with all the investigations.
Alaska Airlines 'unwinding' from Hageland
Ownership and operational control of the three air carriers under the Ravn Alaska umbrella is complex and deeply rooted in the companies' history. The first combining of resources between two members of the group came in 2008. The owners of Hageland Aviation Services -- Mike Hageland and Jim Tweto -- and the owner of Frontier Flying Service -- John Hajdukovich -- established a parent company named HoTh Inc. This company was formed to create a self-described “airgroup” where, according to the company website, “the parent company could acquire companies that have synergies with each other (to) market the combined services under a common brand.” State records show that presently HoTh Inc. is owned by Tweto (11 percent), Hageland (39 percent) and Robert Hajdukovich (50 percent).
HoTH Inc. owns Frontier Flying Service, Hageland Aviation Services and Era Aviation, the latter of which was purchased in 2009.
Each of the three companies have separate directors of operation and chief pilots, though Frontier and Era share a CEO in Robert Hajdukovich. The CEO of Hageland Aviation is James Dickerson. The FAA has also assigned individual Certificate Management Teams to each company with specific principal operations and maintenance inspectors and separate annual inspections.
Alaska Airlines currently partners with Era Alaska in a “code-sharing” relationship. This allows passengers to purchase tickets from a point of departure with Alaska Airlines all the way through to a destination operated by one of the Era Alaska air group members. This will likely change to Ravn Alaska soon as part of the Era Alaska rebranding effort.
This seamless scheduling and travel is part of the Alaska Airlines/Era Alaska relationship and based upon “consistent passenger service standards and procedures” for the duration of transport.
Hageland, however, will soon be removed from that equation. In an email, Alaska Airlines spokesperson Bobbie Egan wrote:
"Alaska Air Group maintains a comprehensive safety oversight program of all of our alliance partners. This includes operational safety focused assessments, regular monitoring, and meetings with these partner airlines. As part of this program, Alaska Air Group made the policy decision in December 2013 to begin unwinding our business partnership with Hageland Aviation, Inc. ... This business partnership will fully terminate this month."
Egan said that Hageland is the only Ravn Alaska member Alaska Airlines is terminating its relationship with.
Hageland Aviation recently opened a new centralized operation center in Palmer that will weigh 25-30 risk factors prior to each flight as part of a new and enhanced risk management approach. Dispatchers at the center are in constant contact with pilots during their flights. This is unusual for a smaller operator -- referred to as Part 135 under Federal Aviation Regulations -- like Hageland. The center mirrors the one utilized by Era Aviation in Anchorage, and similar to those required of all Part 121 airlines.
As the five investigations continue, the operation and training standards of all of Ravn Alaska member airlines will likely receive more scrutiny from FAA and NTSB investigators. With Ravn Alaska's common ownership, common management and common reservation and scheduling systems, it presents a unique and complicated situation for accident investigators and enforcement officials.
Although Hageland Aviation aircraft may present in different livery or colors and the pilots may or may not wear uniforms to match those of Anchorage-based flight crews, the airline itself is owned and operated by the same group of individuals that owns and operates its sister companies. Since the 2008 combination of resources, there have been six Hageland Aviation accidents in addition to two fatality crashes, five of which occurred in the Bethel region. In fact, accidents involving Bethel-based aircraft have long dominated Hageland’s accident history, which includes crashes in such villages as Marshall, Scammon Bay, Kongiganak, Kwigillingok and Bethel itself. As an integral part of the group, that accident history has belonged first to Frontier Alaska and then Era Alaska and now, through the rebranding, Ravn Alaska.
As owners, the open accident and incident investigations are the collective responsibility of the HoTH board of directors. Ultimately, the current fatality crash, and the one in St. Marys, are just as much a part of Ravn Alaska’s future as they are of Hageland Aviation’s.
The probable cause report for the 2012 incident should be released later this year. The reports for 2013 accidents may extend into early 2015. All of the Ravn Alaska flights continue to operate as scheduled and the Hageland Aviation base in Bethel remains open.
The author of this article briefly worked for Frontier Flying Service in 1998, and leased aircraft to the company until 2010. Contact Colleen Mondor at colleen(at)alaskadispatch.com.
Story and comments/reaction: http://www.alaskadispatch.com
Multiple people are dead after two aircraft collided midair, then crashed about six miles northwest of the village of Russian Mission, 60 miles north of Bethel just before 11 a.m. Wednesday.
Some of the deceased have been identified as 48-year-old pilot Harry Wrase, of Wasilla, and his passengers — 32-year-old Steven Paul Andrew, of Kenai, and 21-year-old Aaron Jay Minock, of Russian Mission, all aboard a C208 Caravan plane operated by Hageland Aviation Services. Others killed in the second plane involved were 44-year-old pilot Zach Justin Babat, of Montana, and his passenger, 40-year-old Jeff Thomas Burruss, of Haines, flying in a Super Cub operated by Renfro’s Alaska Adventure. All of the victims’ next of kin have been notified of their deaths.
More details about the crash were shared by Lt. Col. Candis Olmstead, chief public affairs officer for the Alaska National Guard, on Wednesday afternoon. Olmstead wrote in an email that an aviation company told the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center (ARCC) at 11 a.m. Wednesday stating they lost radio contact with an aircraft that was overdue.
Alaska State Troopers contacted ARCC to report another aircraft was overdue as well.
Olmstead wrote that a third aircraft was flying overhead and spotted wreckage “indicative of a mid-air collision between two aircraft.”
Alaska State Troopers confirmed no survivors were found at the site of the wreckage in an online release Wednesday afternoon.
“Terrain in the area consists of rolling hills and heavy vegetation, at an elevation between 600 to 800 feet,” wrote Olmstead. “Weather is good in the region with clear skies and temperature at 63 degrees mid-afternoon.”
Olmstead wrote that a National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from the 207th Aviation Battalion in Bethel, responded to the crash site around noon Wednesday. Two Life Flight medics were on board the helicopter.
She stated Alaska State Troopers also responded.
“When tragedy happens, community members pull through together for support for the families,” said Russian Mission city administrator Agnes Housler.
Hageland is now owned by Ravn Alaska, which issued a statement Wednesday announcing an emergency support line had been set up for families and friends of the deceased, 888-346-7502.
“On behalf of all the employees of the Ravn family we are deeply saddened by this news,” the company wrote. “Our hearts and prayers go out to the family and friends.”
Hageland made “significant changes” to its operations following a report into two previous crashes was released earlier this year by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), including the construction of a new control center in Palmer.
The fatal 2014 crash near Kwethluk occurred when a pilot on a training flight put the plane into a stall, according to the NTSB report. The student pilot and trainer were unable to bring the plane out of the stall, and both died in the crash.
Investigators determined the fatal 2013 crash of a Hageland aircraft near St. Mary’s, in which four people were killed and six were injured, was likely caused by pilot error and the failure of Federal Aviation Administration officials to hold the company accountable for prior errors.
Ravn Alaska’s statement confirmed the company is cooperating with local officials and the NTSB during their investigation.
BETHEL – None of the five people aboard two planes that collided Wednesday morning in the skies above a Yukon River village survived the crash, Alaska State Troopers said.
The planes collided on a sunny day about 6 miles northwest of Russian Mission and some 60 miles from the Southwest Alaska hub of Bethel.
Troopers identified three victims aboard a Hageland Aviation Cessna 208 Caravan as pilot Harry Wrase, 48, of Wasilla; and passengers Steven Paul Andrew, 32, of Kenai, and Aaron Jay Minock, 21, of Russian Mission.
The other aircraft was a Piper PA-18 Super Cub operated through Renfro's Alaskan Adventures that took off from Bethel flying to a hunting camp with pilot Zach Justin Babat, 44, of Montana, and passenger Jeff Thomas Burruss, 40, of Haines.
Two National Transportation Safety Board investigators flew on a trooper helicopter from Anchorage to the extensive crash site, said Clint Johnson, NTSB lead investigator for Alaska. A third investigator was headed to Bethel from the Lower 48. The Federal Aviation Administration is also investigating, said spokesman Allen Kenitzer.
Midair crashes are usually technical and complex, Johnson said.
"Ultimately what we are trying to do is to see how the airplanes came together," Johnson said. "What we want to do is to see if either one of these airplanes was able to see one another, either electronically or visually."
Hageland now operates under the Ravn Alaska umbrella, the busiest commuter service in Alaska. Hageland came under scrutiny after a string of crashes in 2013 and 2014, including one that killed four passengers and another that killed two pilots on a training flight.
Reports and interviews released by the NTSB last year suggested that Hageland had been operating with loose controls and a bush-pilot culture of tight landings and flights in extreme weather. But improvements were made, including creating a tracking and control system directed from Palmer, according to news reports.
"They did a very good job as far as changing their operations," Johnson said Wednesday. "As far as we are concerned, that's in the past."
The Cessna 208 is "the mainstay of bush carriers," he said. The Piper Super Cub is also a popular aircraft that's been around for years.
At 11 a.m. on Wednesday, an aviation company reported to the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson that it had lost radio contact with a plane that was overdue, Olmstead said.
Fifteen minutes later, troopers alerted the RCC about a different plane, also overdue.
"It didn't take too long for the rescuers to figure out we were dealing with a midair," Johnson said.
A third aircraft spotted wreckage on the ground. Johnson said there are essentially two crash sites.
The Rescue Coordination Center enlisted a Bethel-based Alaska Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter carrying medics, which took off at noon, Olmstead said.
Employees at both Ravn Alaska — which operates Hageland — and Renfro's didn't return calls Wednesday morning and afternoon.
Around noon, before rescuers got to the scene, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp., which operates a clinic in the village and hospital in Bethel, was alerted that medical help might be needed. Within 12 minutes, it had activated an emergency operations center in Bethel to make sure medical staff, equipment and transportation were ready to go, said Tiffany Zulkosky, vice president of communications.
Then around 2:15 p.m., troopers announced no one survived. "YKHC has stood down," the health agency said.
YKHC still is offering help; emergency clinicians for families of those in the crash were standing by at YKHC's family center at 837 Chief Eddie Hoffman Highway. Behavioral health aides in village clinics are available too.
The terrain in the area features rolling hills and heavy vegetation, with elevation between 600 to 800 feet. Skies were clear. The temperature was warm for late summer, 63 degrees.
There were no survivors on either plane, according to rescuers at the crash site, Alaska State Troopers say.
The two planes were carrying a total of five people, according to the Alaska National Guard.
This post will be updated when more information becomes available.
Two small planes carrying a total of five people collided mid-air just before 11 a.m. today in southwest Alaska, according to the Alaska National Guard.
The condition of the pilots and passengers is unknown. The crash site is about 6 miles west, northwest of the Yukon River village of Russian Mission, said Clint Johnson, Alaska chief for the National Transportation Safety Board.
The aircraft involved are a Hageland Aviation Cessna 208 Caravan with three people on board and a Renfro’s Alaska Adventures Piper PA-18 Super Cub with two people on board, said Guard spokeswoman Lt. Col. Candis Olmstead.
An Alaska Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter -- carrying medics -- left Bethel for the crash site and was expected to arrive about 1:30 p.m., Olmstead said.
Alaska State Troopers also are responding. Johnson said two NTSB investigators are traveling by helicopter with troopers to Russian Mission today.
One of the aircraft owners, based in Bethel, first alerted officials to the crash, Johnson said.
“Initially we thought it was just involving one airplane," Johnson said. "So we were monitoring that rescue (and) soon after that were informed that there was another airplane that was missing.”
A trooper spokesperson could not immediately be reached.