Sunday, November 21, 2021

Cessna 207A, N9794M: Accident occurred November 20, 2021 near Bethel Airport (PABE), 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; Anchorage, Alaska 

Paklook Air Inc

YR Aircraft Leasing LLC

Location: Bethel, Alaska
Accident Number: ANC22LA007
Date and Time: November 20, 2021, 17:55 Local
Registration: N9794M
Aircraft: Cessna 207A 
Injuries: 6 None
Flight Conducted Under: Part 135: Air taxi and commuter - Scheduled

On November 20, 2021, about 1755 Alaska standard time, a Cessna 207 airplane, N9794M sustained substantial damage when it was involved in an accident at the Bethel Airport, Bethel, Alaska. The pilot and five passengers were not injured. The airplane was operated by the pilot as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 135 scheduled passenger flight.

The purpose of the flight was to transport five passengers and cargo to Kwethluk, Alaska, which is located about 12 miles east of Bethel. The flight was operated by Yute Commuter Service as a scheduled commuter flight as flight number 700B (3). The pilot reported that shortly after departing from Bethel, he noticed that the red, ELT (Emergency Locator Transmitter) light on the instrument panel mounted, remote switch, had illuminated. The pilot then asked the Bethel tower operator if they were hearing an ELT signal, and the tower operator responded that no signal was being received. Moments later, the pilot began to smell what he describes as an electrical burn smell, and he elected to return to Bethel. The pilot said that about one minute later, the electrical burn smell intensified, which was followed by visible smoke in the cockpit, and he then declared an inflight emergency to the Bethel tower. The pilot then turned off the airplane’s master electrical switch, and subsequently opened his side window for ventilation and smoke removal. He said he briefly turned the master switch back on to again declare an emergency with Bethel tower, and to inform the tower operator that he was planning to land on Runway 1L.

The pilot said that after landing, during the landing roll, he realized that the nosewheel steering system and brake system were both inoperative. After the airplane rolled to a stop on the left side of Runway 1L, he ordered all the passengers to evacuate the airplane.

The pilot reported that after all the passengers had safely departed the airplane, heavy smoke filled the cockpit and passenger compartment, and he saw a candle like flame just behind the pilot and co-pilot seats, just beneath the floorboards of the airplane. Moments after all the passengers and pilot had exited the airplane, it was immediately engulfed in flames. 

A detailed NTSB wreckage examination is pending.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Cessna 
Registration: N9794M
Model/Series: 207A 
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built:
Operating Certificate(s) Held: Commuter air carrier (135)
Operator Designator Code: T72A

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: VMC
Condition of Light: Dusk
Observation Facility, Elevation: PABE,102 ft msl 
Observation Time: 17:53 Local
Distance from Accident Site: 0 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: -18°C /-22°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear 
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 16 knots / , 10°
Lowest Ceiling: None 
Visibility: 10 miles
Altimeter Setting: 29.92 inches Hg 
Type of Flight Plan Filed: Company VFR
Departure Point: Bethel, AK 
Destination: Bethel, AK

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 None 
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 5 None 
Aircraft Fire: Both in-flight and on-ground
Ground Injuries: 
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 6 None
Latitude, Longitude: 60.779217,-161.8368 

Electrical wiring that was touching a fuel line inside the Yute Commuter Service plane that caught fire on Nov. 20, 2021 was found to be the cause of the fire. (FAA photo)

More than 200 planes could have the same problem that caused the Yute Commuter Service fire, investigators say.

An investigation into the Yute Commuter Service plane that caught fire on Nov. 20, 2021 has found that the fire was started by wiring in the aircraft that was installed incorrectly. The wiring was installed as part of a federally funded experimental safety program, and there could be over 200 other planes in the region that have the same problem.

The plane that caught fire was a Cessna 207. A week after the incident, two investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and one from the airplane’s manufacturer arrived in Bethel to find out what started the fire. They started collecting the charred wreckage of the plane.

“We were able to harvest some parts that we suspect were the ignition source of the fire,” said NTSB Alaska chief Clint Johnson.

They sent those parts to Washington D.C. for forensic analysis, and what they found led them to suspect that the fire started with some wires that had been added to the plane around 20 years ago.

“Unfortunately, that wire bundle was routed over the top of an aluminum fuel line. And over the years, that finally chafed through. And we were able to determine that that was, in fact, the initiation point,” Johnson said.

These wires were not installed by the airplane manufacturer Cessna, nor were they installed by YCS. They were installed as part of the Capstone Project, a project sponsored by the Federal Aviation Administration in the late 90s to 2000s. The Capstone Project installed new, experimental surveillance systems in aircraft, and the Y-K Delta was its first testing ground. The Capstone Project had identified the region as one that was highly dependent on air travel, with difficult flying conditions that the experimental surveillance equipment could help with.

The FAA states that over 200 airplanes in the Y-K Delta were part of the Capstone Project and could be affected by faulty wire installation. In December 2021, the agency sent a letter to all the airlines that it believes could own these planes. In that letter, the FAA tells aircraft owners to inspect the wiring underneath the planes’ floorboards to see if the wiring touches the fuel line. It suggests to complete this inspection “at the next maintenance function, 100 hour, or annual.”

Asked why the FAA is not treating these potential flight hazards with more urgency, a spokesperson for the administration wrote in an email that catching the issue within 100 hours would be a pretty quick turnaround. He said that the administration is working to identify all the owners and operators of planes that were part of the Capstone Project that could be affected.

YCS, owner of the plane that caught fire, said that the airline has already taken all the steps necessary to keep its passengers safe.

“Once we were made aware of what it was, we inspected every one of our aircraft, and we grounded them until we did, and we completed inspection. And the ones that were affected by it, we took corrective action and then returned the aircraft to service,” said Terry Cratty, YCS Director of Operations.

Cratty said that YCS operates 12 aircraft, nine of which are Cessna 207s. He said that five of those had the same faulty wiring installation that caused the fire in November 2021, and he said that all of those are now fixed.


BETHEL, Alaska - The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating an emergency landing near the Bethel Airport on Saturday night.

The Yute Commuter Service aircraft caught fire before making an emergency landing, but none of the six people on board were injured, according to National Transportation Safety Board Alaska Region Chief Clint Johnson.

Johnson said that the Cessna 207 departed Bethel with five passengers and one pilot, but was unable to determine where the Cessna 207 was departing for.

“Shortly after departure from Bethel about 6 o’clock last evening that they got a smell of smoke, or started out as a smell of burning material followed by smoke in the cockpit. They turned it around, made an emergency landing at Bethel and got everybody off safely,” Johnson said. “It wasn’t destroyed, it was substantial damage.”

Johnson said that an investigation is currently underway to determine what caused the fire and subsequent emergency landing. 

Yute Commuter Service has not responded to requests for comment by the time of publication.

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