Monday, October 31, 2016

Pilatus PC6/C-H2 Turbo Porter, Highlandair LLC, N5308F: Fatal accident occurred October 28, 2016 in Port Alsworth, Alaska

National Transportation Safety Board - Aviation Accident Preliminary Report: 

FAA Flight Standards District Office: FAA Anchorage FSDO-03

NTSB Identification: ANC17FA004
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Friday, October 28, 2016 in Port Alsworth, AK
Aircraft: FAIRCHILD HELI-PORTER PILATUS PC6, registration: N5308F
Injuries: 1 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 October 28, 2016, about 1828 Alaska daylight time, a turbine-powered tailwheel-equipped Fairchild Pilatus Porter PC-6, N5308F, sustained substantial damage after impacting mountainous terrain about 57 miles north-northeast of Port Alsworth, Alaska, in the Neacola Mountains of Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. The airplane was being operated as a visual flight rules (VFR) cross-country personal flight under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91. The commercial rated pilot, the sole occupant, sustained fatal injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the departure and destination, with areas of reduced visibility and lower cloud ceilings along the route of flight. No flight plan had been filed. The flight departed Lake Hood Seaplane Base, Anchorage, Alaska, at 1711, destined for a private airstrip near Port Alsworth.

During a phone conversation with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator-in-charge (IIC) on October 31, a family member said that the purpose of the flight was a fuel delivery to a family homestead near Lake Clark, just as the pilot had done the previous day. According to friends and family, the pilot was very familiar with the routes through the mountains to Lake Clark, and he had the airplane outfitted with an internal 250-gallon fuel tank. Typically, the pilot would fly through the Lake Clark Pass unless the weather was low, in which case he would take the northern Merrill Pass route. According to a family member in Port Alsworth, the pilot requested the weather conditions at Lake Clark prior to departure, which were reported as windy with a high overcast cloud layer and "no blue sky".

A preliminary review of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) radar data revealed that after departure the airplane turned west after reaching the northwest side of Cook Inlet and prior to reaching the Lake Clark Pass entry. According to a text message provided by a friend of the pilot, the pilot communicated that the pass "looks fuzzy" and "on my way, holes out west" while flying en route prior to crossing the mountains. The airplane then climbed up to an altitude of about 14,600 feet on the east side of the mountains, and descended westward down to 7,700 feet near the accident site. The last radar return at 1827 indicates a ground speed of 119 knots, a rate of descent of about 833 feet per minute and a heading of about 340 degrees. 

The airplane was outfitted with an Artex Emergency Locator Transmitter model ME406, which is designed to transmit an encoded 406 megahertz (MHz) signal for 24 hours to overhead Cospas-Sarsat satellites every 50 seconds, and a continuous swept Very High Frequency (VHF) homing signal on 121.5 MHz for 50 hours.

According to Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (RCC), an Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) signal was received about 1831 with partial position information from an ELT that was registered to N5308F. A more accurate position was obtained by the RCC about 1922. About 2252, the RCC coordinated a search of the area by helicopter; however, low visibility and darkness prevented search area access. The FAA issued an alert notice at 2253. The RCC coordinated daily search flights with an HH-60 helicopter and HC-130 airplane from October 29 through November 3. The 406 MHz signal stopped transmitting late on October 30. Low ceilings and visibility prevented a search of the immediate ELT area for 5 days. 

On November 4, the Civil Air Patrol joined the search due to a forecast for improved weather. The ELT 121.5 MHz VHF signal was still transmitting a continuous signal and was used by the search crews to locate the wreckage on the morning of November 4. The pilot's remains were recovered from the scene by RCC rescue personnel.

The remote accident site consists of steep, mountainous, snow-covered terrain oriented north and south within the Alaska Range with a peak of about 8,336 feet in the near vicinity. The wreckage is located about 6 miles south of Merrill Pass west and 14 miles northeast of Lake Telaquana within the Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. The airplane wreckage is located about 6,500 feet on the south side of a ridge line, heading north. Search crews reported substantial damage to the forward portion of the fuselage and nose. 

At 1755, an aviation routine weather report (METAR) from Sparrevohn LRRS Airport (the closest weather reporting facility) reported, in part: wind 140 degrees at 20 knots, gusts to 41 knots; visibility 10 statute miles; sky condition, overcast at 8,500 feet; temperature 48 degrees F, dew point 34 degrees F; altimeter 29.57 inHg. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Aviation Weather Camera images on October 28 from Lake Clark Pass East show weather diminishing at about 1547 ADT to below 1 statue mile, and images from Merrill Pass High and Low Weather Cameras indicating diminishing visibility at 1624 to at or below 1 statute mile visibility in snow with mountains obscured. 

Official sunset for October 28, 2016, was 1815 with civil twilight ending at 1901 ADT. 

A detailed wreckage and engine examination is pending. The airplane was equipped with a Aireasearch Garrett Honeywell TPE 331 turbine engine.

A Garmin 496 GPS was recovered from the scene and sent to the NTSB Vehicle Recorder Laboratory in Washington, D.C., for download.

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

David McRae stands alongside his Pilatus Porter turbo prop airplane.

The remains of missing pilot David McRae were located and recovered Thursday morning in the Alaska Range, according to the Alaska National Guard.

Civilian searchers found McRae's aircraft southwest of Merrill Pass at an elevation of about 6,500 feet in Lake Clark National Park, said Lt. Candis Olmstead in a release.

"McRae was recovered from the scene, transported and released to the state medical examiner at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage early this afternoon," Olmstead said.

Heidi Hammond, McRae's cousin, said McRae was well respected among Alaska aviators and made friends with everyone he met.

"Everybody who knew him is going to miss him," Heidi Hammond said.

Poor weather hampered search efforts for six days until weather cleared Thursday. The improved weather allowed the Civil Air Patrol to join in the search, and it spotted the wreckage shortly after sunrise, officials said. McRae was the only one aboard the plane.

McRae, 55, was flying fuel from Anchorage to the Port Alsworth homestead of his aunt, Bella Hammond, on Friday evening when he is believed to have deviated from his planned route through Lake Clark pass due to weather, according to investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board.

NTSB will continue to investigate the crash.

The investigation into the crash is in its preliminary stages, said Clint Johnson of NTSB. An investigator spent the past several days gathering radar and air traffic control data, as well as interviewing officials and family.

The information collected so far does not answer the question on the minds of those closest to McRae: How did the crash happen?

"We have no idea at this point," Johnson said. "That data is just a small piece of the puzzle."

Initial indicators given to NTSB by the Alaska Air National Guard indicate the recovery of the plane will be difficult, Johnson said. He was told the area of the crash site features steep terrain and an abundance of snow.

Johnson said more details will be gathered in the coming days, such as exactly where the plane crashed and its condition.

"But the reality is, depending on weather conditions, it very well could be next spring before we see the wreckage," he said.

McRae frequently flew to the homestead, which Bella Hammond and her late husband, Gov. Jay Hammond, built and shared for decades. Heidi Hammond estimated he made the trip more than once a month.

He also flew all around the state and once spent a summer flying around Denali, Heidi Hammond said. Another typical trip involved flying from Alaska to Washington, she said.

"He had a lot of experience," she said.

Outside of his life of aviation, McRae spent many years commercial fishing in Bristol Bay. He spent his free time working on his aircraft and other projects, Heidi said.

"He could do anything. Everyone thought the world of him."


Alaskan bush pilot David McRae, 55, stands with the Pilatus PC6/C-H2 Turbo Porter he was flying. The plane wreckage was located Thursday morning southwest of Merrill Pass at an elevation of 6,500 feet in Lake Clark National Park. Searchers have been looking for the missing pilot since he departed from Lake Hood en route to Port Alsworth last Friday. McRae’s remains were recovered from the scene, transported and released to the state medical examiner.

After six days, the body of missing pilot David McRae and his plane have finally been found in Lake Clark National Park.

Lt. Col. Candis Olsmstead directs public affairs for the Alaska National Guard said weather cleared enough today to get close to the area.

The Civil Air Patrol helped with the search and ultimately found the site.

Longtime bush pilot McRae and his plane, a single engine Pilatus Porter, were found at an altitude of 6,500 feet, but authorities have not described the crash site or a possible cause.

He had been flying Friday evening from Lake Hood to Lake Clark through Merrill Pass when his plane went down.

Olmstead said pararescue crews got down to the wreck site Thursday.

“They hoisted down to the site and they were able to find Mr. McRae and they did recover his body and transported and released him to the state medical examiner,” Olmstead said.

Weather had hampered search efforts since last weekend.

His next of kin have been notified.

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David McRae 

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) THURSDAY UPDATE:   Rescue crews discovered the body of pilot David McRae, 55, and his aircraft in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve on Thursday morning.

After searching since Friday night, rescuers finally got a break in the weather and spotted the plane southwest of Merrill Pass in the Alaska Range at an elevation of about 6,500 feet, according to a news release from the Alaska National Guard.

McRae's body was recovered from the scene and released to the State Medical Examiner in Anchorage early Thursday afternoon.

McRae was the nephew of former Alaska First Lady Bella Hammond and commercially fished in Bristol Bay. He was delivering a load of fuel to her family's homestead in Lake Clark when the crash occurred.

His family has been notified. The National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the cause and circumstances of the crash.

Poor weather hampered search efforts for six days until weather cleared on Thursday.

The Civil Air Patrol (CAP) was able to safely join in the search effort Thursday morning and spotted wreckage shortly after sunrise.

McRae was flying alone from Lake Hood in Anchorage en route to Port Alsworth in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve early Friday evening.

The Alaska Rescue Coordination Center received indication of an aircraft 406 Beacon activation and sent search crews to the vicinity of the transmitted coordinates. The search that evening was limited due to very poor weather and visibility.

Bad weather conditions prevailed until today.


The search for missing bush pilot David McRae will continue Tuesday after poor weather conditions again hampered efforts to find him on Monday.

According to the National Parks Service, Pave Hawk helicopter crews with the Air National Guard have so far been unable to reach the area from where McRae’s emergency locator beacon was transmitting.

“The aircraft is believed to be at about the 5,000 foot elevation in a rugged, mountainous location between Merrill Pass and Telaquana Lake,” NPS wrote in a Tuesday press release. “Search efforts will continue today.”

McRae’s aircraft went missing on a Friday afternoon flight from Anchorage to Lake Clark. Tuesday marks the fifth day of efforts to try and locate him.


Search for missing Alaska bush pilot continues into its fourth day

Search efforts are continuing for a pilot who went missing on a Friday afternoon flight out of Lake Hood, according to a statement from the National Parks Service and the Alaska Air National Guard.

The pilot has been identified as 55-year-old David McRae, the nephew of former Alaska First Lady Bella Hammond and the late Governor Jay Hammond, the National Parks Service said in a Sunday night press release.

Authorities believe McRae was the pilot and sole occupant of a single-engine Pilatus Porter which took off from Lake Hood Friday afternoon en route to Lake Clark Lodge with a load of fuel. The plane failed to reach its destination and was declared missing in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve.

Search efforts by the Air National Guard over the weekend were hampered by low clouds and fog, NPS said. The Air Guard plans to continue searching on Monday morning.

“Searchers are focusing on an area where an ELT signal was first received on Friday evening. The area is between Merrill Pass and Telaquana Lake, in the rugged northern portion of the national park,” NPS wrote in the release.


David McRae. 

UPDATE, November 2, 2016:    It’s been six since Anchorage pilot David McRae’s plane went down in Lake Clark National Park. With a window of slightly better weather this morning, the Alaska Air National Guard continued search efforts by helicopter and C-130. Friend and fellow pilot Glen Alsworth from nearby Port Alsworth has been monitoring the search for McRae closely, which he says has been constantly hampered by foul weather.

"The way the low pressure is set up in the Bering Sea side and the high pressures to the east, it's streaming that warm wet air from the Gulf of Alaska right up across the Alaska range where it is cooling and turning into fog and snow. And it's been accompanied by high winds as well," Alsworth explains.

McRae’s plane is believed to have gone down in a mountainous area along the Merrill Pass route between Anchorage and Lake Clark. An emergency beacon from the plane indicated an altitude of about 5000 feet, and the search radius has been narrowed to approximately one mile. But hope of finding McRae alive fades with each new day of poor weather.

"It's quite unusual that it's such a long time the weather has stayed in this same pattern. It's very unfortunate. We need a break so we can give the search and rescue folks a chance to even access this site," says Alsworth.

McRae was flying a load of fuel to his aunt Bella Hammond’s lakeside lodge Friday went his plane apparently went down. He has deep ties to the Bristol Bay region, and is a highly respected pilot. Alsworth has known him for years.

"David Mcrae's just a fine gentlemen, has always been very careful, very measured in his decisions," Alsworth says. "He's always been just extremely responsible and careful in all the interfacing I've ever had with him."

McRae is believed to have been the only person on board the single engine Pilatus Porter.  The National Transportation Safety Board says it will be investigating the crash.

ORIGINAL REPORT, October 31, 2016:

The search continues for a plane and pilot, missing since Friday, in the Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. 55-year-old David McRae, of Anchorage, was en route from Lake Hood to a lodge on Lake Clark when his single engine Pilatus Porter apparently went down. After a weekend of poor weather that hampered search efforts, National Park spokesperson John Quinley says a helicopter crew was able to begin a better effort this morning.

“Today the reports are that visibility is better—seems like fewer clouds, less cloud cover,” says Quinley. “I think there’s some optimism that this might give the Alaska National Guard helicopter crew the window they need to get in into the elevation 5000 foot area and really be able to give a thorough search.”

The C-130 aircraft that rescue crews were using this weekend in addition to the helicopter is grounded today for maintenance.

McRae’s emergency locator transmitter went off Friday but did not transmit full coordinates. The last known location was at 5000 feet in an area of rugged, mountainous terrain.

“Merrill Pass is one of a handful of passes that allow smaller aircraft to get from the Cook Inlet side to the West side of those mountains,” Quinley says, “And the search area is south of South of Merrill Pass and toward Telaquana Lake. And it’s just been a foul weather weekend for trying to run a search.”

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash, but Clint Johnson, NTSB’s Alaska chief, says that rescue efforts take precedence right now.

“Our hopes are that we find this airplane, hopefully within the next couple of days or as soon as possible.”

McRae is believed to have been the only person on board the plane. The Alaska Dispatch News reported he was flying a load of fuel to his aunt, former Alaska first lady Bella Hammond.


ANCHORAGE –   Low clouds continue to hamper efforts to find a pilot whose plane went missing in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve.

David McRae, 55, intended to fly from Anchorage to a family members homestead near Lake Clark on Friday. But he never arrived and his emergency location transmitter activated, initiating a days-long search in the park. His plane is believed to be at around 5,000 feet in elevation in steep, rugged terrain of the Neocola Mountains.

Parks Service officials say they’re refining the exact location of the transmitter so the Alaska Air National Guard rescue crew only needs a narrow window to get to it. They are staying in the area, hoping the clouds break.

On Monday, NTSB aviation accident investigator Noreen Price said the rescue crew believe they had gotten with a few miles of the plane’s location, but the weather prevented them from finding McRae.

Some of the rescue crew have medical training and are equipped to handle emergency treatment once they find McRae.

“Friends and family say that he is a very tough man who had survival gear on the air craft and certainly is capable of a survival scenario,” Price said. “So we are hoping for the best.”


ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The search for a missing Bush pilot and Bristol Bay commercial fisherman continued into its fourth day on Monday with weather continuing to be a challenge.

David McRae, 55, has been missing since Friday evening. He’s the nephew of former Alaska Gov. Jay Hammond and his widow Bella, who lives at the family’s homestead at Lake Clark.

McRae left Anchorage’s Lake Hood on Friday afternoon, piloting a single-engine Pilatus Porter equipped with a load of fuel for Bella Hammond.

“He’s probably Bella’s primary help as far as fuel and fixing things. He’s a major part of the reason Bella is able to live at their home on Lake Clark,” said Rick Halford, a former Alaska Senate president, Bush pilot, and family friend.

With several decades of flying experience under his belt, McRae is a competent and skilled aviator, Halford said.

The route he was flying through the Alaska Range is marked by steep, rugged mountains. The Alaska National Guard described the weather and visibility on Friday evening as “very poor.”

“There are a lot of places on that route if you run into something, like lousy weather, you might need to put down on a glacier. We’re hoping he’s in the airplane waiting for the arrival of someone to pick him up,” Halford said on Monday morning.

The Rescue Coordination Center received a distress signal from an emergency locator transmitter at about 6:30 p.m. on Friday. The coordinates did not immediately transmit. Controllers used registration information logged with the transmitter to make phone calls to numbers that were registered with McRae’s family at Lake Clark Lodge.

A HH-60 Pavehawk helicopter and aircrew left Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson at 10:25 p.m. It had to turn around due to poor weather.

Search and rescue efforts continued at first light on Saturday but challenging weather, poor visibility and terrain continued to hamper the mission, according to the National Guard. Rescuers are focusing on an area between Merrill Pass and Telaquana Lake, in the northern part of Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, about an hour’s flight west from Anchorage.

Weather reports for the search area on Monday indicate variable clouds with snow showers. Lt. Col. Candice Olmstead said challenging weather on Monday continued to prevent the search crew from pinpointing the plane.

“They really need a break in the weather,” said Glen Alsworth, owner of Lake Clark Air.

Alsworth described the missing pilot as a “gentle-spirited guy” who was “very helpful and humble.”

McRae, who was single, commercially fished the waters of Bristol Bay during summers, according to Alsworth and published accounts. He lived in Anchorage, Seattle, and at Lake Clark Lodge.

He was a co-owner of Fly Denali for awhile and flew clients for a few months.

But he liked to keep his own schedule.

“Being a full-time pilot didn’t fit with his lifestyle,” said Fly Denali’s founder Jim Trumbull.

Reached by phone at the family’s Lake Clark homestead, Heidi Hammond, daughter of Jay and Bella Hammond, said the family was not up for commenting.

“They are obviously very worried,” said Halford.

He said the Hammond family remains hopeful that McRae is still alive.

“We all have a very high level of faith in David’s ability.”


ANCHORAGE – Last updated at 5:15 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 31

The search continues for a pilot and their plane that went missing Friday evening in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. The pilot has been identified as 55-year-old David McRae, of Anchorage.

An aircraft 406 beacon was activated and received by the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) around 6:30 p.m., according to a statement from Lt. Col. Candis Olmstead, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Air National Guard. The coordinates were not immediately transmitted, making it more difficult to determine the area where the plane might have gone missing. 

RCC controllers identified the beacon’s origins to a Pilatus Porter turbo prop aircraft, and called phone numbers associated with its registration information, Olmstead explained.

“They were able to reach a family member at approximately 7:30 p.m. who was presently at Lake Clark Lodge,” she wrote. 

McRae’s family stated he left Lake Hood in Anchorage Friday afternoon to deliver fuel to another family member’s homestead on Lake Clark, but never arrived, according to Megan Richotte, the acting superintendent for the park.

Around that time, the coordinates for the beacon came through to the RCC, allowing rescue coordinators to identify a 10- to 25-mile area between Merrill Pass and Telaquana Lake to search, somewhere in the steep Neocola Mountains.

“Merrill Pass is one of two main passes from Anchorage to southwest Alaska, Lake Clark Pass being the other one,” Richotte explained. “Our understanding is that Lake Clark Pass was his original destination or route to get to Lake Clark, but for some reason he tried to go through Merrill Pass instead. The weather was iffy on that day so it may have been a weather-related decision.”

The RCC reached out to the National Park Service to alert them to McRae’s last known location, and offered to assist with rescue efforts. NPS spokesman John Quinley said the Alaska Air National Guard has conducted the by-air search, as NPS aircraft were not suited for the weather in the area.

Olmstead said that weather caused low visibility Friday and Saturday, further hampering efforts to find McRae. She said an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter and aircrew from the Alaska Air National Guard’s 210th Rescue Squadron, along with two pararescuemen from the 212th Rescue Squadron, left Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson around 10:30 p.m. to begin actively searching for the plane. 

“The team encountered poor weather in Merrill Pass, approximately 90 miles west of Anchorage,” she wrote. “They attempted two times over the evening hours to reach the site but were turned around due to poor visibility and weather. They returned to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, arriving at midnight, with plans to resume the search Saturday morning at first light.”

A low cloud ceiling, snow and very poor visibility on Saturday continued to inhibit the search team, which was looking in an area of steep, rugged terrain, according to Olmstead. An HC-130 King aircraft from the Alaska Air National Guard’s 211th Rescue Squadron joined the search at approximately 1 p.m. Saturday, and helped refuel the helicopter.

Quinley said McRae’s plane was believed to be in an area about 5,000 feet high. While some peaks in the area were visible above 5,000 feet, he said fog and local weather conditions were “sketchy” on Sunday, but he was hopeful the team would find a window with better visibility as the weather clears up.

On Monday, the weather had cleared by a small amount, but not enough for search teams to locate the plane, according to NTSB aviation accident investigator Noreen Price.

“Weather is still obscuring the area of the [emergency location transmitter] location,” Price said. “And they are not able to get on scene right now. They believe they are three miles out but are just waiting for weather to clear.”

McRae is believed to be the only person on board the missing plane Quinley said. McRae is the nephew of former Alaska first lady Bella Hammond and the late Gov. Jay Hammond.

When asked if the beacon could have been activated manually by the pilot, Quinley said the beacon system could be triggered by someone on board the plane, but it could also be activated by a severe impact. He also noted that the Alaska Air National Guard teams searching for McRae included medical personnel equipped to handle emergency treatment in the field.

“Friends and family say that he is a very tough man who had survival gear on the air craft and certainly is capable of a survival scenario,” Price added. “So we are hoping for the best.”

Lake Clark National Park and Preserve is located in Southcentral Alaska, west of the Kenai Peninsula and north of Lake Iliamna.


David McRae was doing a routine fuel haul on Friday, flying his bush plane from Anchorage to deliver fuel to his aunt Bella Hammond's homestead on Lake Clark.

He was supposed to arrive in the early evening at the Port Alsworth lodge she and late former Alaska Gov. Jay Hammond built and shared for decades. 

But McRae never made it.

"We think the weather probably caused some kind of problem and he detoured," Hammond said by phone Sunday evening. "But we don't know why and what exactly happened."

For the last two days, searchers have been fighting bad weather as they look for McRae and his airplane in rugged, mountainous terrain in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve.

McRae had taken off from Lake Hood in his Pilatus Porter turboprop late Friday afternoon, according to the Alaska Air National Guard. He was the only person aboard the plane, said Clint Johnson, chief of the National Transportation Safety Board's Alaska office.

The Alaska Rescue Coordination Center first received an emergency locator beacon distress signal from McRae around 6:30 p.m. Friday, but the coordinates didn't fully transmit, said Lt. Col. Candis Olmstead of the Alaska Air National Guard. 

It wasn't until an hour later that rescuers were able to determine a 10- to 25-mile radius of the beacon and focus the search on an often-traveled but treacherous area near Lake Clark pass, about 90 miles west of Anchorage.

On Saturday and Sunday Alaska Air National Guard helicopter and HC-130 aircraft crews searched the area but were turned back by worsening weather, with low clouds, fog and temperatures just above freezing, according to Olmstead.

As of Sunday night, the search had narrowed to an area between Merrill Pass and Telaquana Lake, said John Quinley of the National Park Service.

The emergency transmitter beacon seems to be coming from an elevation of about 5,000 feet, said Clint Johnson of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Hammond said her nephew often helped out at the homestead.

"He does a lot of work and helps me a lot here," she said.  "He's really proficient in so many ways. He's just a very capable person."

McRae grew up in Williams Lake, British Columbia. He spends time at Lake Clark, in addition to Anchorage and sometimes Seattle, Hammond said.

Karl Johnstone, a retired judge and former Alaska Board of Fisheries chairman, said McRae was flying a route he knew well.

Johnstone described McRae as a cautious pilot who had made the journey from Anchorage to the Lake Clark lodge countless times. 

"He knows the area about as well as anybody," Johnstone said.

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