Friday, May 15, 2020

Cessna A185F Skywagon, N5454E: Fatal accident occurred May 14, 2020 in Nuiqsut, Alaska

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. 

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

Additional Participating Entity:

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

Location: Nuiqsut, AK
Accident Number: ANC20LA046
Date & Time: 05/14/2020, 2200 AKD
Registration: N5454E
Aircraft: Cessna A185
Injuries: 1 Fatal, 1 Serious
Flight Conducted Under: Part 135: Air Taxi & Commuter - Non-scheduled 

On May 14, 2020, about 2200 Alaska daylight time, a Cessna A185F, N5454E sustained substantial damage when it was involved in an accident about 72 miles northwest of Nuiqsut, Alaska. The commercial pilot was fatally injured, and the passenger sustained serious injuries. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 135 on-demand passenger flight.

The flight was being operated by Webster's Flying Service as a day, visual flight rules flight to support a research project being conducted by the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The airplane had departed Fairbanks International Airport, Fairbanks, Alaska on Wednesday May 13, 2020 and was repositioned to a cabin located on Teshekpuk Lake, North Slope Borough, Alaska in support of the project.

According to the passenger, the "Old Gnarl Cabin," located on the northwest corner of Teshekpuk Lake, was being used as a remote arctic research facility and their base of operations. One flight had been completed earlier in the day and returned to the Old Gnarl Cabin at about 1700 Alaska daylight time. After dinner, the pilot checked the weather via satellite internet and filed an FAA flight plan. About 2000, they departed for multiple off-airport landing sites located in the vicinity of Teshekpuk Lake. Upon their return, they elected to fly over the North Slope Borough Wildlife Cabin located on the northern shore of Teshekpuk Lake and assess the area as a possible landing site. The cabin was overflown at an altitude estimated to be 200-300 ft above ground level (AGL) and the area was determined to be unsuitable for landing. He said that after overflying the cabin, they entered a left turn for the 4-mile flight back to the Old Gnarl Cabin and subsequently impacted the ground. Following the accident, the passenger manually activated the airplane's emergency locator transmitter and sent a distress signal via his Garmin inReach satellite communicator. The passenger stated that the pilot had not voiced any concerns before the accident regarding any preaccident mechanical failures or malfunctions that would have precluded normal operation.

The airplane impacted on its left side in a nose low attitude and came to rest inverted in an area of flat snow-covered terrain. An area believed to be the initial impact site was marked by disturbed snow and small wreckage debris. The propeller separated from the engine's crankshaft and was located within the debris path.

Wreckage recovery efforts are pending.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Cessna
Registration: N5454E
Model/Series: A185 F
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: No
Operator: Webster James M
Operating Certificate(s) Held: On-demand Air Taxi (135) 

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Unknown
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: PAQT, 45 ft msl
Observation Time: 0553 UTC
Distance from Accident Site: 72 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: -4°C
Lowest Cloud Condition:
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 9 knots / , 40°
Lowest Ceiling: Overcast / 700 ft agl
Visibility:  10 Miles
Altimeter Setting: 30.43 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: VFR
Departure Point: Nuiqsut, AK
Destination: Nuiqsut, AK

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 1 Serious
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal, 1 Serious
Latitude, Longitude: 70.735278, -153.737778 (est)

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.


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