Monday, October 31, 2016

Pilatus PC6/C-H2 Turbo Porter, registered to Highland Air LLC and operated by the pilot, N5308F: Fatal accident occurred October 28, 2016 in Port Alsworth, Alaska

The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident. 

Additional Participating Entities:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Anchorage, Alaska 
Honeywell Aerospace; Phoenix, Arizona 

Aviation Accident Factual Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board: 

Location: Port Alsworth, AK
Accident Number: ANC17FA004
Date & Time: 10/28/2016, 1828 AKD
Registration: N5308F
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Defining Event: Unknown or undetermined
Injuries: 1 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Personal 

On October 28, 2016, about 1828 Alaska daylight time, a Fairchild Heli-Porter Pilatus PC-6, N5308F, was substantially damaged when it impacted mountainous terrain about 57 miles north-northeast of Port Alsworth, Alaska. The commercial pilot was fatally injured. The airplane was registered to Highland Air LLC and operated by the pilot under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. 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 was filed for the personal flight, which departed Lake Hood Seaplane Base (LHD), Anchorage, Alaska, at 1711, destined for a private airstrip near Port Alsworth, Alaska.

According to a family member of the pilot, the purpose of the flight was to transport fuel from LHD to the family residence on Lake Clark, near Port Alsworth, which was an approximate 140 nm, 1.2-hour flight. The pilot had delivered a load of fuel the previous day and spent the night at the family residence. He flew back to Anchorage the morning of the accident and was expected to return to Port Alsworth about 1800. According to friends and family, the pilot was very familiar with the routes through the mountains to Lake Clark. 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.

Before departing on the accident flight, the pilot sent the family member a text message at 1623, which stated, "fueling now, will text." The family member noted that the wind generators at their home on Lake Clark were howling due to strong winds. She sent the pilot a video of the lake waves. She also sent a text message stating that there was no blue sky, but the mountain tops were visible and there was some sun showing in the direction of Port Alsworth. The pilot responded, "doesn't look too bad, 15-20 knots." Fuel receipts indicated that the pilot dispensed 98 gallons of Jet A-50 with Prist into the airplane's fuel tanks, and 213 gallons of Jet A-50 into the internal transport tank. At 1700, he texted, "going now." The family member responded, "no blue sky." 

According to a friend of the pilot who was working at LHD, he saw the airplane taxiing for departure about 1700. He stated that the weather had been great all day up until that time and that a flight he was scheduled to make had been put on hold due to deteriorating weather at his destination to the west. He sent the accident pilot a text message as the airplane taxied, asking where the pilot was going. They discussed whether the pilot had looked at Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) weather cameras, and the pilot indicated that he had not. 

During the flight, as the airplane passed Beluga Airport on the west side of Cook Inlet, the pilot sent a text message to the family member stating that "the pass is fuzzy." He also sent a text to his friend, "looks fuzzy" and "Guess I might have to slow down." The friend replied, "Ha. Turbine go high." The last message received from the pilot was, "On my way. Holes out west." 

Primary radar data obtained from the FAA Anchorage Air Route Traffic Control Center Terminal Radar Approach Control Facility showed the accident airplane departing LHD about 1711. The airplane flew westbound along the coastline and climbed to 5,600 ft mean sea level (msl). It remained about 5,600 ft for nearly 25 miles before descending to 4,600 ft, where it remained for about 8 miles before beginning a climb to 14,700 ft. The airplane made a series of "s" turns and began tracking west. About 1810, at 13,200 ft, the airplane turned to the northwest and began a descent. The track continued for about 25 miles, descending to the last recorded altitude of 7,600 ft about 1827 and about 2 miles southeast of the accident site. A search of archived FAA air traffic control records revealed no voice communications with the accident airplane during the accident flight. A radar study prepared by an NTSB senior air traffic investigator is available in the public docket. 

Flight track radar data and FAA Weather Cameras.

According to the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center (AKRCC) records, a 406-MHz emergency locator beacon (ELT) signal was received about 1831 the evening of the accident. The AKRCC coordinated a search with Alaska Air National Guard and Civil Air Patrol (CAP) assets throughout the following 6 days. On October 30, the ELT's 406-MHz signal stopped transmitting. The mountainous terrain and poor visibility prevented access to the accident site until the morning of November 3, when a CAP airplane located the wreckage on the south side of a steep, snow-covered mountain about 6,500 ft msl. 

Pilot Information

Certificate: Commercial
Age: 55, Male
Airplane Rating(s): Single-engine Land; Single-engine Sea
Seat Occupied: Left
Other Aircraft Rating(s): None
Restraint Used: 4-point
Instrument Rating(s): Airplane
Second Pilot Present: No
Instructor Rating(s): None
Toxicology Performed: Yes
Medical Certification: Class 2 With Waivers/Limitations
Last FAA Medical Exam: 04/01/2016
Occupational Pilot: No
Last Flight Review or Equivalent:
Flight Time: (Estimated) 6400 hours (Total, all aircraft) 

The pilot, age 55, held a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land, single-engine sea, and instrument airplane. He held a second-class FAA medical certificate issued on April 1, 2016, with a limitation that he must have available glasses for near vision.

On the application for that medical certificate, the pilot reported 6,400 total hours of flight experience and 43 flight hours in the previous 6 months. No personal flight records were located for the pilot.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Registration: N5308F
Model/Series: PILATUS PC-6 C-H2
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Year of Manufacture: 1975
Amateur Built: No
Airworthiness Certificate: Restricted; Normal
Serial Number: 2068
Landing Gear Type: Tailwheel
Seats: 2
Date/Type of Last Inspection:  Unknown
Certified Max Gross Wt.: 4850 lbs
Time Since Last Inspection:
Engines: 1 Turbo Prop
Airframe Total Time:
Engine Manufacturer: Garrett Aireasearch
ELT: C126 installed, activated, aided in locating accident
Engine Model/Series: TPE331-1-151K
Registered Owner: HIGHLANDAIR LLC
Rated Power: 575 hp
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None 

The high-wing, conventional-gear, turbine-powered airplane was manufactured in 1975 by Fairchild Heli-Porter under the design authority of Pilatus Aircraft Limited of Stans, Switzerland. According to FAA airworthiness records, the airplane was equipped with a 575-shaft horsepower Garrett AiResearch TPE331-1-151K turbine engine under FAA supplemental type certificate (STC) SA5959NM. The propeller was a three-bladed Hartzell metal propeller. The airplane was equipped with an Artex ELT model ME406 and a radar altimeter. The airplane was also equipped with an internal 250-gallon fuel transport tank. There was no evidence that the airplane was equipped with supplemental oxygen.

According to a friend of the pilot who was a mechanic, the airplane was in very good condition and he occasionally helped the pilot with maintenance. He stated that, a few weeks before the accident, he assisted the pilot with troubleshooting an electrical problem that was preventing the engine from starting. He repaired a terminal wire and the airplane was returned to service. According to the friend, the engine, airframe, and propeller logbooks were on the airplane at the time of the accident. The logbooks were not located. 

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Unknown
Condition of Light: Dusk
Observation Facility, Elevation: PASV, 1588 ft msl
Distance from Accident Site: 60 Nautical Miles
Observation Time: 1755 ADT
Direction from Accident Site: 272°
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Visibility:  10 Miles
Lowest Ceiling: Overcast / 8500 ft agl
Visibility (RVR):
Wind Speed/Gusts: 20 knots / 41 knots
Turbulence Type Forecast/Actual: /
Wind Direction: 140°
Turbulence Severity Forecast/Actual: /
Altimeter Setting: 29.57 inches Hg
Temperature/Dew Point: 9°C / 1°C
Precipitation and Obscuration: No Obscuration; No Precipitation
Departure Point: Anchorage, AK (LHD)
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Destination: Port Alsworth, AK
Type of Clearance: None
Departure Time: 1711 AKD
Type of Airspace: Class G

There was no record of the pilot receiving a weather briefing from an FAA Flight Service Station or from the Direct Users Access Terminal (DUAT) system. It could not be determined what, if any, sources of weather information the pilot may have accessed before the flight.

The National Weather Service (NWS) Alaska Aviation Weather Unit's (AAWU) Alaska Surface Forecast Chart valid for 1600 on the day of the accident depicted an occluded frontal system with a cold front extending southwest of the accident site. A large area of expected light continuous rain was depicted along the frontal system. The chart also depicted an increasing pressure gradient with tight packing of the isobars over western and southwest Alaska. The accident site was depicted ahead of the expected precipitation area and was within an area of potential increasing southeasterly winds; however, no significant weather was depicted between Anchorage and Port Alsworth. The NWS AAWU Flying Weather Graphic Forecast charts issued for 1200 to 1800 and 1800 to 2400 showed VFR conditions for the planned and actual flight routes. The NWS AAWU icing and turbulence forecast charts indicated that the accident site was on the border between an area of predicted occasional to continuous moderate turbulence below 4,000 ft and isolated severe turbulence below 6,000 ft. The icing forecast chart for 1800 indicated that the accident site was under an area of forecast isolated moderate icing from 12,000 ft to FL200.

The nearest weather observation for the intended destination that would have been available to the pilot before departure was Port Alsworth Airport (PALJ). The 1650 observation reported wind from 060° at 10 knots, visibility 30 miles, an overcast ceiling at 10,000 ft, temperature 10°C, and dew point temperature 4°C.

The official weather observation nearest to the accident site was Sparrevohn Airport (PASV), about 60 nm west at an elevation of 1,565 ft. The 1755 automated observation reported wind from 140° at 20 knots gusting to 41 knots, visibility 10 miles, an overcast ceiling at 8,500 ft agl, temperature 9°C, dew point 1°C, altimeter 29.57 inches of mercury.

A review of the MesoWest database from the University of Utah revealed remote automated weather system (RAWS) data from Stoney (STNA2), located about 13 miles west-southwest of the accident site at an elevation of 1,226 ft. The station reported a north wind at 6 knots with a peak gust of 17 knots, temperature 41°F with a temperature-dew point spread of 5°F and relative humidity 83%, suggesting a high probability of low clouds and restricted visibility.

A review of archived FAA weather camera images at Lake Clark Pass East, Lake Clark Pass RCO, Merrill Pass Low and Merrill Pass High all indicated deteriorating weather starting about 1530 and visibilities of 1 mile or less in snow showers with mountain terrain obscured by 1600. The Lake Clark Pass West northeast view, which was closest to the planned destination, revealed that, at 1838, the clouds were above the highest terrain and visibility was unrestricted, which was corroborated by the family member's observations provided to the pilot. The FAA weather camera website states that the camera weather images are supplementary products and may only be used to improve situational awareness. The closest upper air sounding was from the NWS Anchorage (PANC) Forecast Office, about 105 miles east of the accident site. A review of the 1600 sounding indicated a high potential for moderate rime-type icing conditions at 9,330 ft within the shallow layer of broken altostratus type clouds. The air sounding wind profile indicated that, at the accident airplane's cruising altitudes between 9,500 ft and 10,500 ft, the wind was from 210° at 20 knots, with a temperature of -10°C. At 14,500 ft, the highest altitude the airplane operated at during the flight, the wind was from 235° at 23 knots with a temperature of -11°C. The primary freezing level aloft was about 4,880 ft.

Archived satellite data was obtained and processed for 1800 and 1830 over the accident area. Infrared image for 1830 depicted the accident site under multiple layers of clouds with temperatures corresponding to cloud tops near 30,000 ft or high, cirrostratus-type clouds.

The closest Weather Surveillance Radar-1988, Doppler (WSR-88D) was NWS Anchorage/Kenai (PAHG), located 65 miles east of the accident site showed echoes consistent with snow showers. The radar product's depiction of the large area of echoes and the satellite imagery confirm that a layer of altostratus to nimbostratus-type clouds were over the route and over the accident site during the period, with likely snow showers, associated with lower ceilings and visibilities over the route of flight.

The United States Naval Observatory website lists the following astronomical data for October 28, 2016: sunset 1807, end of civil twilight 1853, moonset 1807.

A weather study is available in the public docket.

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 61.094722, -153.446944 (est)

The remote accident site was located in steep, mountainous, snow-covered terrain within the Neacola mountains of the Alaska Range, with a peak of about 8,336 ft in the near vicinity. The wreckage was 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 initially came to rest on the south side of an east-west ridge of a mountain bowl. When the rescue crew arrived, the airplane was mostly covered by 3 ft of snow and was in a slightly nose down, level attitude oriented on an easterly heading across the mountain face at an elevation of about 6,500 ft. A review of photographs provided by AKRCC revealed that the forward fuselage and cockpit had been torn away and partially separated from the aft section forward of the wing roots. The forward fuselage and engine were displaced aft and to the right and displayed significant crush damage. The right wing was missing, and the left wing was partially attached and displaced downward. The empennage was intact, and the rudder was fractured about 3 ft from the top. Jet A fuel was present on recovered clothing and manuals. A Garmin GPSMAP 396 and a personal electronic device were recovered by the rescue and recovery crew. 

The airplane was not recovered due to the hazardous terrain and snow conditions that prevailed throughout the following year. On July 8, 2017, a National Park Service airplane overflew and photographed the wreckage, which had slid down the mountain about 100 ft during the summer snow melt. Photographic evidence revealed that the left and right wings were separated from the fuselage near the wing roots and remained about 100 ft above the fuselage section. The left and right main landing wheels were present in shallow snow below the wings. All primary airplane components were present. To date, the airplane has not been recovered nor examined. 

Medical And Pathological Information

The Alaska State Medical Examiner, Anchorage, Alaska, performed an autopsy of the pilot. The report attributed the pilot's cause of death to multiple blunt force injuries.

The FAA Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed forensic toxicology on specimens from the pilot with negative results for carbon monoxide, cyanide, ethanol, and listed drugs. 

Tests And Research

The Garmin GPSMAP 396 was examined and downloaded at the NTSB Vehicle Recorder Laboratory. The flash memory chip contained files that revealed power cycles and flights for a period ending October 24, 2016. No data was recovered for the accident flight.

The portable electronic device was passcode-protected and data was not recovered.

Additional Information

The Neacola Mountains are a rugged mountain range running north to south between south central Alaska and south interior Alaska. The highest peak in the range is about 11,413 ft msl. There are two primary passes between the east and west sides of the range. The Lake Clark Pass runs a course of about 220° and terminates at Lake Clark and Port Alsworth at the southwest end. Merrill Pass is about 32 miles north of the Lake Clark Pass and consists of higher terrain and narrow canyons.


FAA Advisory Circular 91-74B states that aircraft icing in flight is usually classified as either structural or induction. Structural icing forms on surfaces when supercooled droplets adhere and freeze, which can adversely affects an airplane's performance and result in loss of airplane control. Induction icing refers to ice in the engine's induction system and can lead to engine loss of power. The PC-6 Airplane Flight Manual Report No. 1161 Section I states:

Flying into predicted or actual icing conditions is not approved.

Supplemental Oxygen Use and Hypoxia

Federal Aviation Regulation 91.211 states that supplemental oxygen is required by flight crew operating at cabin pressure altitudes above 12,500 ft up to and including 14,000 ft for more than 30 minutes. Supplemental oxygen is always required by crewmembers operating above 14,000 ft pressure altitude. The accident airplane was unpressurized. The radar data indicated that the airplane was operating above 12,500 ft for 31 minutes and above 14,000 ft for about 14 minutes.

Hypoxia is a state of oxygen deficiency in the body that can occur at high altitudes as a result of the decreased pressure in the atmosphere. According to FAA Advisory Circular (AC) 61-107B, the portions of the brain governing judgment and cognitive skills are the first to show degraded function when the body enters a hypoxic state. Other signs and symptoms include rapid breathing, poor coordination, visual impairment, fatigue, nausea, headache, dizziness, and a feeling of euphoria. The AC stated that, while significant effects of hypoxia usually do not occur in a healthy pilot at altitudes below 12,000 ft, there is no definitive altitude at which the effects of hypoxia begin or end. The FAA recommends that supplemental oxygen should be used on any unpressurized flight at or above 10,000 ft in the day or 5,000 ft at night. The onset of hypoxia is insidious, and it can be difficult for pilots to recognize the symptoms and take corrective action before becoming impaired. If hypoxia is suspected, pilots should don oxygen masks immediately and descend to an altitude below 10,000 ft.

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.

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.

Story and audio:

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.

Story and comments:

Cessna A185F Skywagon, N124UA: Incident occurred October 30, 2016 near Flying Crown Airport (AK12), Anchorage, Alaska

FAA Flight Standards District Office: FAA Anchorage FSDO-03


Date: 30-OCT-16
Time: 21:45:00Z
Regis#: N124UA
Aircraft Make: CESSNA
Aircraft Model: 185
Event Type: Incident
Highest Injury: None
Damage: None
Flight Phase: LANDING (LDG)
State: Alaska


A pilot made a safe but sudden landing in South Anchorage Sunday afternoon.

The pilot, John Kagerer, reported that his engine quit shortly after taking off from Flying Crown Airport, a private runway near the Seward Highway. He was able to find some clear space and landed on some train tracks. Kagerer said his plane was not damaged.

One passenger was on board the plane during the incident, Kagerer said. Neither he nor his passenger was injured.

Kagerer said he has been flying for 35 years and has never had an engine quit on him before.

He said the challenge now is getting a truck or trailer large enough to tow his plane from the scene. He said he stores his plane, a Cessna 185, at Flying Crown.


Brazil Clay County Airport: flying high or wings clipped?

Owen Holmes, 4, helps his grandfather, Ray Jones, check fuel for water in his plane at the Brazil Clay County Airport.

(This is part two of a two-part series about the history and current state of the Brazil Clay County Airport.)

Brazil Clay County Airport Board President Ray Jones says that some people think the local airport is nothing but a bunch of “good ole boys who just sit around drinking beer and coffee on the weekends. But he says that’s absolutely not true.

A lot of people don’t even know that Brazil/Clay County has an airport. Those who are aware have varied opinions about its purpose and usefulness. Some say it’s a waste of taxpayer money and should be closed.

“I don’t want it closed but I really question why my tax dollars are going to support an entity that’s used by such a small amount of people,” Brazil resident Susan Crick said. “I’d really like to understand the benefits to our county.”

The county’s budget for the airport in 2015 was around $49,000. For 2016 it was lowered to $33,500. It’s being cut to about $31,000 for 2017. The airport takes in about $9,000 a year. Their revenue sources are hangar rentals, leasing 18 acres of land to a local farmer and from fuel sales. There are 20 hangar spots; nine are private, 11 are rentals. Of those 11, one rents for $75 a month and the others are $60 a month. Jones said the $9,000 is part of the total annual budget. So, in 2017, if the airport raises $9,000 the county will be providing just $22,000.

Dissenters think the airport is just draining the county of money with no benefits. They wouldn’t care if the airport were closed. Jones says that the Board and other county residents feel that $22,000 is a very small investment and that the airport gives back much more than that to the community. They think it has great value and potential and want it to grow.

When asked how they might increase funds, Jones said they’re having a fly-in and Young Eagle Flights next year. A Fly-In invites pilots from all over to fly in to the airport to visit with other pilots and their families and see other planes. Food is available. The public is invited and it gives them an opportunity to see the airport, how it functions and observe some of the aircraft. Plane rides might be offered.

Young Eagle Flights is a program that offers free rides to kids ages 8 through 17. The airport will have an open house inviting the general public and pilots from other airports for breakfast or lunch.

The airport does provide benefits for the city and county. Several local businesses use the airport to increase their efficiency and cut costs.

Ken Maurer from PDF said, “Many of our business trips would take three days. By using the local airport we can do it all in one day. That saves us a lot of time and money.”

Companies using the airport are Interior Fixtures, Kent Booe Trucking, PDF, Brickcraft and Duke Energy. These companies employ many county residents who spend their money in Clay County which helps maintain the local economy. The cost savings afforded by the airport help in providing some of these jobs.

Indiana State University has used BCCA for training purposes. Occasionally the military has used it; a couple Blackhawks have landed there. And it’s been used for emergency landings. A lot of crop dusting originates from this airport with the local Ceres Solutions delivering the needed fuel and chemicals. Again, this helps keeps local money in the community.

Air Evac Life Team is located at the Brazil Clay County Airport. They came here in 2004. Program Director Lori Mayle said a big part of the reason Air Evac located in Brazil was because of the airport. Air Evac goes to small towns where air medical service is limited. Local airports are a drawing card because they provide safe in and out air traffic.

Potential uses of the airport are limitless. Kip Clark, a Clay County resident and Airport Board member said, “We as a community need to embrace our airport. It’s a potential crown jewel of our county. It supports local industry which utilizes it for their operations. And we have not fully utilized its economic and educational capabilities.”

Clark, who is a pilot and Commander of the 181st Intelligence Wing, said his interest in aviation was piqued when he was eight or nine years old and someone took him for an airplane ride at the Brazil Airport. He thinks many of today’s youth are unaware of the existing opportunities and careers available coming from the monstrous growth taking place in the field of aviation.

He believes the drone industry and unmanned systems will grow dramatically in the next few years. Clark would like to see an aviation class offered at the county high schools to give kids a chance to see what’s out there.

Dr. Tim Rayle, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction for Clay Community Schools, says that could be a possibility. Rayle had plans to talk with ISU in October and maybe later with Ivy Tech Community College about the possibility of classes for aviation and unmanned systems. When asked why he didn’t talk to the BCCA Board about this he said he had talked to them in the past, several years ago, and there appeared to be no interest from the students.

Clark says that students can’t get interested in something they don’t know exists. He wants to make contact with Dr. Rayle soon and hopes they can work together on this.

Most of the County Council members want to keep the airport open. But they would like to see it become self-supporting. Jones said if they could get enough money to asphalt the tarmac, about $25,000, and seal coat the runway and repaint the lines, about $19,500, there’s a possibility the airport could then become self-sufficient.

County Council President Larry Moss does not want the airport closed. “I’m not in favor of shutting it down,” he said. “We need to get it operating at a reasonable budget. We’ve got to figure out what we’re going to do long term. I’m an optimist and hope we can keep it open.”

County Councilwoman Toni Carter said, “Most of my constituents that have talked to me about this issue feel like the airport only supports a small group of people and it’s not really a big benefit to the county. It’s all about the funding,” Carter continued. “If they can be self-sufficient that’s great. If they can’t then the county needs to make some decisions.”

The BCCA Board definitely wants it to remain open. They believe it’s a tremendous asset to the county and they’re working very hard to keep it active and viable.

“There’s an old saying,” Jones said. “When a pilot loses his license it’s like losing his dog, and close to losing his wife. I’m not making light of the situation,” he continued. “I really think if Clay County lost this airport it would be like clipping the wings of the community.”

Board member Carl Trout said “One mile of road takes you a mile. A mile of runway can take you anywhere in the world.”