Plane, helicopter collide in Katmai National Park

The helicopter was about 800 feet above the ground when it collided with a floatplane on Labor Day
Published: Sep. 5, 2023 at 2:44 PM AKDT
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KING SALMON, Alaska (KTUU) - A helicopter pilot flying in Southwest Alaska received medical transport to Anchorage on Labor Day after a mid-air collision with a small plane.

According to Katmai National Park & Preserve, a Bell helicopter and Beaver floatplane were flying north of Lake Coville within the remote park when the two aircraft struck each other, causing both aircraft to make emergency landings.

The helicopter pilot was able to walk away from the crash site with minor injuries before being evacuated for a medical assessment; the pilot and six passengers of the floatplane were uninjured.

The helicopter was about 800 feet above the ground when the collision happened, according to Clint Johnson, chief of the National Transportation Safety Board’s Alaska Regional office.

“Midairs are nasty, unfortunately, and a lot of times it results in loss of control, uncontrolled descent into terrain or whatever it may be,” Johnson said.

“We were very blessed. Midairs are nasty, nasty accidents, no ifs, ands or buts there. I think we’re very blessed that we have a great outcome here. I couldn’t be happier there,” Johnson added.

The helicopter was returning to Homer after the completion of a job, Johnson said. It’s unclear what mission the plane was on before the crash.

The floatplane is registered to Enchanted Lake Lodge in King Salmon. Enchanted Lake hasn’t responded to requests for comment.

A public relations person with Maritime Helicopters, which operates the other aircraft involved with the collision, didn’t have further comment beyond saying the pilot is OK and they’re cooperating with the investigation.

“We’ve got great cooperation with their management folks down there,” Johnson said. “They’re just as concerned as we are. We’re working really diligently to find out exactly what happened here.”

The NTSB is in the preliminary stages of the investigation, Johnson said, and it appears there is damage to the back of the helicopter. The helicopter pilot walked away from the crash after landing in tundra and tree-covered terrain, Johnson said.

It can take a few weeks for a preliminary crash report to be released and as long as a year, or longer, for a full investigation to be completed. The fact that everyone is alive to tell the tale will help in the investigation.

“That is key,” Johnson said. “Especially in midairs. Closure rates, angles, it’s all very important information.”

“We want to document slash marks — either from a prop or a portion of the float — so we can better understand the way these things came together. Know how they came together, work backwards from there, to see if each one of these pilots were even able to see each other.”

The NTSB will be interviewing survivors in the next day or two.

“We’re giving them a little bit of space,” Johnson said. “Obviously, it was a little bit of a hair-raising endeavor for everybody, for both pilots and passengers. We’re going to give them a little bit of space [to] collect their thoughts and be able to talk to them in the next 24 hours.”

This is the second incident involving Maritime Helicopters this summer; the company was operating the helicopter that went down in late July southwest of Utqiagvik, killing three Alaska Department of Natural Resources geologists and the pilot.

“We look at both of those accidents completely separate,” Johnson said. “We don’t crossbreed there [for] any type of information. We’re looking at each one of these events as a stand-alone event.”