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Bethel plane fire prompts warnings, letters from national agencies

Published: Jan. 17, 2022 at 10:03 AM AKST
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BETHEL, Alaska (KTUU) - A fire tore through a Yute Commuter Service flight after it returned to the Bethel Airport, Nov. 20, 2021. The pilot smelled smoke moments into the flight to Kwethluk. All six people onboard the flight survived.

The National Transportation Safety Board now believes it knows where that fire started.

“We ended up zeroing in on an area below, in between the pilot’s seat and the passenger seat, pretty much mid-cabin,” said NTSB Alaska Chief Clint Johnson.

According to Johnson, investigators found frayed wires over the top of a fuel line, but Johnson warned that it is too early to say if the wiring is what caused the fire.

Johnson said investigators may have avoided another in-flight fire in December as they uncovered a similar wire problem on a different Yute Commuter Service plane that underwent repairs in a hangar at the Bethel Airport.

“The end result is an in-flight fire that could be catastrophic. In this case, we dodged a bullet,” warned Johnson. “There’s no ifs, ands or buts with the Yute Commuter Service.”

Those incidents prompted a letter from the Federal Aviation Administration dated Dec. 14, 2021, to more than 200 operators of airplanes with similar equipment that was installed years ago.

According to Johnson, faulty wiring may responsible for another in-flight fire. Two people escaped in May 2017 after flames consumed their flight shortly after landing in Noatak. The board initially could not determine what caused the fire, but Johnson now believes it’s similar to what happened to the Yute plane.

“Our main concern is how many other planes are affected by this,” Johnson said.

That concern, according to Johnson, prompted the letter from the aviation administration to make sure the wiring is installed properly. The administration said in an email it’s unclear how many of the planes in question are still in Alaska.

“Basically it’s a one-time check, following the wire bundles, making sure it’s not over a fuel line, or brake line, or anything like that,” Johnson said.

Yute Commuter Service have not returned calls for comment on the wiring at the time of publication, and did not, as well as other airlines, comment on the administration’s letter.

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