Friday, May 15, 2020

Cessna A185F Skywagon, N5454E: Fatal accident occurred May 14, 2020 near Teshekpuk Lake Observatory, Alaska

Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Fairbanks, Alaska

Aircraft crashed under unknown circumstances. 

Webster's Flying Service

Date: 15-MAY-20
Time: 04:47:00Z
Regis#: N5454E
Aircraft Make: CESSNA
Aircraft Model: 185
Event Type: ACCIDENT
Highest Injury: FATAL
Aircraft Missing: No
Activity: ON DEMAND
Flight Phase: UNKNOWN (UNK)
Operation: 135

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

In August 2019, pilot Jim Webster of Webster’s Flying Service in Fairbanks found a 40-year-old plastic disc released in 1979 to determine the fate of oil spilled in northern Alaska.

Ben Jones shows off a plastic disc researchers released on northern sea ice 40 summers ago.  Pilot Jim Webster working with Ben Jones found it in August 2019, not far from where it was released.

The pilot of a charter plane is dead after crashing near Teshekpuk Lake southeast of Utqiagvik Thursday night. 

The North Slope Borough Search and Rescue Department received a distress signal between 9 p.m. and midnight, said spokesman DJ Fauske. Fauske said pilot Jim Webster of Fairbanks charter company Webster’s Flying Service died in the crash.

Fauske said rescuers found one passenger alive: Ben Jones, a researcher with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Institute of Northern Engineering. A rescue helicopter brought Jones to Utqiagvik. 

“Ben is recovering in Utqiagvik at our hospital there, with multiple fractures,” Fauske said. “[He’s] expected to recover, but obviously severely injured.”

Fauske said Jones and Webster were the only two on the plane. 

Fauske said the National Transportation Safety Board is coordinating an investigation into the crash with the North Slope Borough. Flying conditions were very bad and foggy when the distress beacon was received. 

Fauske says it was important that Webster had a special international beacon that was compatible with the borough’s search and rescue equipment. 

“They were able to locate them because of that device,” Fauske said. “Without that device, it was still bright out since it’s that time of year, but it would be very difficult.”

North Slope Borough Mayor Harry Brower thanked search and rescue for recovering Jones, and he sent prayers to Webster’s family.

Pilot Jim Webster, of Webster’s Flying Service, stands next to a tundra boulder about four miles inland from the Beaufort Sea coast.

A pilot died and another man was injured in a plane crash late Thursday night on Alaska’s North Slope, authorities said Friday.

Jim Webster, of Webster’s Flying Service in Fairbanks, died in the crash near Teshekpuk Lake Observatory, said D.J. Fauske, the North Slope Borough director of government and external affairs. The crash site is about 30 miles southwest of the lake, which is about 80 miles southeast of Utqiagvik.

Ben Jones with the Institute of Northern Engineering at the University of Alaska Fairbanks was the lone passenger onboard the chartered flight, Fauske said.

“Ben is recovering at Utqiagvik hospital with multiple bone fractures but expected to recover,” Fauske said.

The borough’s search and rescue responded Thursday night in "horrible foggy conditions," Fauske said.

Utqiagvik is the nation’s northernmost community, located about 700 miles north of Anchorage.

Fauske said the crash is under investigation.

Clint Johnson with the National Transportation Safety Board in Alaska confirmed the borough’s details. The agency is leading the investigation. He said the accident occurred at about 8 p.m.


  1. I think flying and flying services in Alaska are the "last cowboys" left. Dangerous flying conditions. So many pilots lose their lives flying in Alaska. It takes a special person to fly in Alaska. I think it takes a special person just to live in Alaska. I know my body never needs to consider a trip there. It is not compatible to cold.

    1. Mr. Webster had to be sharp to run his one-aircraft flying service there. His certifications included A&P mechanic in addition to commercial pilot and CFI. His passing is a big loss to his family, friends and customers.

      The observatory station is small and remote. Mr. Jones took this photo of it in the summer of 2014:

      You can just barely make out the observatory buildings on the sat photo. Zoom out and consider how remote that location is.