Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Let L-23 Super Blanik, N317BA, registered to Teton AvJet LLC and was operated by Teton Aviation Center: Fatal accident occurred June 09, 2018 in Moose, Teton County, Wyoming

Kristine Ciesinski poses for a portrait for the Teton Valley Magazine at the Driggs Airport. Ciesinski, an international opera star, teacher and pilot, died June 9 while piloting a glider that crashed over the Tetons. A passenger with her also died. He was David Ross, 65, of Salt Lake City.

David J. Ross

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

Additional Participating Entities: 
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Salt Lake City, Utah
Air Accidents Investigation Institute; Letnany, FN
Blanik Aircraft CZ s.r.o.; Letnany, FN
Teton Aviation Center; Driggs, Idaho

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board:  https://app.ntsb.gov/pdf

Location: Moose, WY
Accident Number: CEN18FA217
Date & Time: 06/09/2018, 1115 MDT
Registration: N317BA
Injuries: 2 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Business - Sightseeing 

On June 9, 2018, about 1115 mountain daylight time, a retractable tandem-geared LET L-23 (Super BlanĂ­k) glider, N317BA, collided with remote mountainous terrain while en route about 7 miles northwest of Moose, Wyoming after departing from the Driggs-Reed Memorial Airport (DIJ), Driggs, Idaho. The commercial pilot and the passenger sustained fatal injuries. The glider was destroyed. The glider was registered to Teton AvJet, LLC, Driggs, and was operated by Teton Aviation Center, Driggs, under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91 as a visual flight rules sightseeing tour flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident, and no flight plan was filed. The flight originated from DIJ at 0950 and was released from the tow airplane at 1037.

Teton Aviation Center based at DIJ, conducts Title 14 CFR Part 91 sightseeing tour flights to the public in both airplanes and gliders, staying within a 25-statue mile radius of DIJ. DIJ is located at an elevation of 6,231 feet mean sea level (MSL). The purpose of the sightseeing tour flight was to facilitate viewing of the Teton Range mountains for the passenger. A friend of the passenger purchased the sightseeing tour flight as a gift for the passenger.

The operator reported that a sightseeing tour flight typically is about 1 hour in duration, with the first thirty minutes for the tow operation, with the remaining thirty minutes gliding back to DIJ. The glider typical spends about 15 minutes at the altitude it was released at before it begins the descent. The sightseeing tour flight predominately flies over the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, encompassing both Idaho and Wyoming.

The tow pilot, employed by Teton Aviation Center who flew a tailwheel-equipped Aviat A-1 airplane, reported he and the glider pilot discussed the planned route of flight prior to takeoff. The planned route after departure from DIJ was to head south toward Darby Canyon, then proceed north along the ridges near the Grand Targhee Resort, Alta, Wyoming, and then along the ridges of Teton Canyon toward the Grand Teton National Park. The tow pilot further reported that he and the glider pilot briefed safe altitudes for the route of flight, and then completed the preflight duties for the glider together.

After departing from DIJ, the tow airplane and glider reached 10,000 feet MSL. The two aircraft proceeded south and climbed to 11,000 feet MSL and turned west toward Darby Canyon. Both aircraft arrived at the foothills of Darby Canyon at 11,500 feet MSL and the tow pilot reported "there wasn't much lift." Both aircraft then flew east toward the boundary of Grand Teton National Park. Prior to reaching the boundary, both aircraft flew north, paralleling the Teton Range and were "slowly climbing." Upon reaching a point 3 miles west of the South Teton peak, at an altitude of 13,800 feet MSL, the glider pilot released the glider at 1037. The tow pilot reported that he obtained visual confirmation of the release in his rear-view mirror and departed back to DIJ without further incident, landing at about 1045.

During the tow operation, the tow pilot reported that he maintained radio communication with the glider pilot throughout the entire flight and they worked together to find lift to gain sufficient altitude for release. The glider pilot did not report any mechanical malfunctions or failures with the glider during the tow operation.

The front desk manager for Teton Aviation Center was expecting the glider to return to DIJ between 1115 to 1130. Starting at 1130, the front desk manager attempted to make multiple radio calls on a universal communications frequency (commonly referred to as "UNICOM") to the glider with no success. At 1220, the glider was reported overdue to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). At 1240, an Alert Notice (commonly referred to as an "ALNOT") was issued by the FAA.

A National Park Service (NPS) search and rescue team consisting of NPS Rangers from Jenny Lake Rescue, working in conjunction with Teton County (Wyoming) Search and Rescue, utilized data acquired from a cellular phone onboard the glider to determine the last known coordinates. The owner of Teton Aviation departed from DIJ at about 1435 in a private helicopter and flew to the area of the last known coordinates. The owner was able to obtain visual confirmation of the wreckage at about 1450. No emergency locator transmitter was onboard the glider, nor was one required to be.

Photograph 1 - Aerial view of the accident site 
(courtesy of the National Park Service).

The wreckage was in steep mountainous terrain, about 11,000 feet MSL between the Middle Teton peak (12,809 feet MSL) and the South Teton peak (12,519 feet MSL), near the frozen Icefloe Lake, in the Teton Range, located in the Grand Teton National Park. The accident site was classified as technical mountaineering terrain. The NPS search and rescue team was inserted to the accident site via a NPS-contracted helicopter for recovery and documentation purposes at about 1530. Photographs provided by the NPS showed both wings and an impact crater located on a west facing snow and ice-covered saddle. The photographs further showed the fuselage, empennage, and miscellaneous debris located near the base of the saddle, by Icefloe Lake. The saddle originates at the South Teton Peak and extends to the northeast culminating at the Middle Teton peak.

The wreckage was extracted via external load with a NPS-contracted helicopter to a secure location in the Grand Teton National Park for a wreckage layout and examination. On June 13, the NTSB investigator-in-charge (IIC), along with an aviation safety inspector (ASI) from the FAA Salt Lake City Flight Standards District Office traveled to the operator in Driggs to tour the company facilities and conduct interviews with company personnel. On June 14, the NTSB IIC, the FAA ASI, and two representatives from Teton Aviation Center traveled to the Grand Teton National Park to conduct a wreckage layout and examination. During the examination, no preimpact mechanical malfunctions or failures with the glider were noted. All major structural components of the glider were accounted for. The glider was found to be assembled correctly for flight operations. An examination of the maintenance records revealed no evidence of uncorrected mechanical discrepancies with the glider.

Photograph 2 - Exemplar photograph of N317BA
 (courtesy of Teton Aviation Center). 

The two-seat capacity non-motorized glider, serial number 978406, was manufactured in 1997 in the Czech Republic. 

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Manufacturer: LET
Registration: N317BA
Aircraft Category: Glider
Amateur Built: No
Operator: Teton AvJet, LLC
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None
Operator Does Business As: Teton Aviation Center
Operator Designator Code:

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: KJAC, 6419 ft msl
Observation Time: 1656 UTC
Distance from Accident Site: 8 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 18°C / 7°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: Calm
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility: 10 Miles
Altimeter Setting: 30.04 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Departure Point: DRIGGS, ID (DIJ)
Destination: DRIGGS, ID (DIJ) 

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 2 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude:  43.724722, -110.819167 (est)

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

No stage was too small for Kristine Ciesinski, an international opera star who inspired the Teton Valley community not only with her voice, but also through her generosity of spirit and grace that knew no bounds.

Ciesinski died on June 9 while piloting a glider tour over the Tetons. The passenger with her also died. He was David Ross, 65, of Salt Lake City. The accident is still under investigation by the Grand Teton National Park, but the details of her death feel small in the bright light of her legacy.

“Her priority was making the world more beautiful and that was incredible,” said Hannah Rose Linville, a student of Ciesinski’s. “I think the valley was so lucky to have her. She was world-renowned and then she plopped herself down into podunk Idaho. It’s incredible that I had the opportunity to work with her. All of us students were lucky to share in her talent and to be in her light and I’m so glad to have known her.”

Ciesinski defied the mold, weaving a fine thread into the diverse tapestry of the Teton Valley community. Serving on the Teton Valley Hospital Foundation Board and the Earthfire Institute, founding various organizations in the community, and teaching as an adjunct professor at BYU-I in Rexburg, the reach of her generosity, her example and commitment, not to mention her devilish sense of humor, knew no bounds. She grounded her life in generosity and flew with the greatest of ease as a glider pilot circling the Tetons with passengers who often knew little of the famous person guiding them through the clouds.

“Kristine had a strong sense of community and strong sense of place,” said longtime friend and neighbor Carol Taylor. “I don’t think she ever saw the magnitude of who she was in our community. If she could help anyone she would do it.”

Ciesinski used her voice to shine light on pieces of the valley community in need. From the Teton High School Music Department, to Teton Valley Hospital and all the small and ever significant places in-between, Ciensinski could be called upon. Her presence, said her friends and colleagues, always elevated an event or fundraiser, though Ciensinski’s humility made her approachable and so much fun to be around.

She opened the Geotourism Center a few years ago by performing on the sidewalk in a long flowing gown in front of an adoring audience, her voice rising and falling while the amp tried to keep pace.

Afterward she whipped off her dress and mixed and mingled with the crowd in her jeans and T-shirt.

“She had the rights to be a diva, but she wasn’t,” said Jeanne Anderson, Ciesinski’s friend and collaborator on various community events. “In an age when ego can be overinflated, she was the epitome of someone who shared her talents and didn’t flaunt them. She had a lot of grace, a lot of class. She was also very sophisticated, but she was a hell of a lot of fun.”

Ann Loyola agreed.

“She served on the Teton Valley Hospital Foundation board for at least six years and very actively supported the hospital,” said Loyola, Director of Marketing and Public Affairs for Teton Valley Health Care. “She was the star of the Gathering of Friends fundraiser where she and her husband Norman and sister Katherine would perform and all of the funds supported cancer prevention and hospice home health services. Her concerts were always sold out and it was so meaningful. If you wanted to go to see that kind of performance anywhere else, you would have to pay a minimum of $300 to see that kind of star power. But she wanted to bring music to the community and to know that she was helping people — that’s why she organized those events.”

When Ciesinski wasn’t performing or flying, she was teaching. She spent almost 11 years at Brigham Young University of Idaho in Rexburg and there influenced many students both in and out of the classroom.

“I have lived in major cities and I have never run across a pedigree like Kris,” said Rebecca Smith Lord, a third year faculty member at BYU-I in the music department. “She’s one of a kind. She had a gift of being able to break it down for students so they could grasp a better usage of their voice. And after a while, I decided she needed to be my teacher too.”

Lord said that as the two worked together, she invited Ciesinki to teach students out of her home in Rexburg. Ciensinski ran group classes at a low rate for students who couldn’t afford private lessons or class credits.

“She could see the spark in each of her students. She was so encouraging,” said Lord. “It was beautiful to see her mentorship in my students. She had a heart of gold.”

Linville was Ciesinski’s student and sought her guidance after landing the lead in the Center for the Art’s production of Mary Poppins in her senior year of high school. Linville said Ciesinski could “kick your butt.”

“I would say knowing her and being a part of her life and her being a part of mine, she inspired me in a lot of ways,” Linville said. “I remember how elegant she was with so much grace and poise and confidence. I still aspire to grow up and be like her, to have that kind of poise and to treat everyone with kindness. I think the hardest part about losing her is knowing she gave me my voice. All these things that make me happy, I owe to her. She helped me sing. It meant so much to me that she took me through this process with her believing in me so I could believe in myself.”

While Ciesinski was always finding ways to “reinvent herself,” as she told Teton Valley Magazine in 2011, she remained steadfast and true to what drove her. She used her talents to not only touch a community, but move friends and family to do the same.

“The legacy she leaves this community, is the gentle calling to each of us to remember who we are and why we're here and what is precious about this place,” said Taylor. “To recognize our differences and be there for one another. And that wasn’t something she said, it was something she did – she just did it.”


David J. Ross, age 65, passed away in a glider accident on Saturday, June 9, 2018 in the lower Teton Mountains, near Jackson Hole, WY. He was born on June 8, 1953, in Fremont, Ohio, to Joseph and Helen Ross. Having obtained a BS degree in Information and Computer Science from Georgia Tech in 1976, where he was a member of Phi Kappa Theta fraternity and MS degrees in Computing Science from UC Davis in 1981, David has programmed videogames nearly as long as the genre has existed.

David started his career as a scientific programmer in 1976 with Texas Instruments in Plano, TX, where he also received his private pilot's license. In 1978, he moved to Lawrence Livermore Labs, where he did theater-level nuclear facility threat analysis. He took the opportunity to join Bally Sente in Sunnyvale, CA in 1982, where he was also a Big Brother to numerous mentees and met his best friend and love of his life, Vic. They were married in 1988. Also, in 1988, he took a position as lead programmer for Mediagenic in Menlo Park. 1991, saw Dave's move to Salt Lake City, where he remained for the rest of his life. His first job in Salt Lake City was with Sculptured Software/Acclaim Entertainment and in 1999, moved to his last and best employer, Avalanche Software, where he remained through their various acquisitions by Disney Interactive and Warner Brothers Games.          

Additionally, Dave applied his prodigious work ethic and boundless passion to his family, a truly amazing circle of close friends and colleagues, golf, and motorcycles. He was the type of guy who was interested in everything and reveled in being the "go-to" for his co-workers and family. His wife and son, Mitchell, are surrounded by a group of very good friends that Dave has worked and played with for over 25 years. Clearly, in Dave's other-driven life, it was the people with whom he came into contact, made friends with, or just helped, that made life endlessly meaningful and exciting.      

Dave was preceded in death by his parents. He is survived by his wife, Vic, his son Mitchell, his sister, Regina Albert, his brother, Captain Thomas Ross and numerous nieces and nephews.    

His family asks that Dave's numerous friends, neighbors and colleagues, join them for a Celebration of Life, Wednesday, June 20, 2018 from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm at Starks Funeral Parlor, 3651 South 900 East, Salt Lake City. Given his propensity to be a "casual" dresser, the family asks that celebrants joining us to also dress casually and bring your recollections of Dave's zest for life. Guests are encouraged to use the complimentary valet parking on the north side of the building. 

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