Investigators release preliminary report on plane crash that killed husband of Rep. Peltola
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A preliminary report on the plane crash that killed Eugene “Buzzy” Peltola Jr. — the husband of Alaska Rep. Mary Peltola — earlier this month did not offer a conclusion as to why the plane went down but revealed that the craft was carrying over 500 pounds of moose meat when it crashed.
Peltola Jr., described by friends and family as an avid aviator, died before rescue teams could reach him on Sept. 12 following the crash in the mountains northeast of St. Mary’s in Southwest Alaska.
Peltola Jr., 57, was the husband of Alaska’s lone representative in the U.S. House, Mary Peltola, who is currently serving her first term in Congress after being elected last fall. Peltola also served out the remaining months of the late Rep. Don Young’s term in 2022 after the longtime congressman died in April of that year.
Initial reports indicated that the plane Peltola was flying solo crashed soon after takeoff from a remote airstrip in a mountainous region in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge.
The preliminary report released Thursday described accounts from a group of five hunters and a guide that Peltola had reportedly flown on a contracted flight two days before the crash from the town of Holy Cross to the airstrip located about 80 miles northwest of the community.
After successfully hunting a bull moose, the hunters called for a return flight the next day, when they loaded up the Piper PA-18 with moose meat so Peltola could fly it back to Holy Cross, the report stated.
Peltola then returned to pick up the rest of the meat and antlers, according to the report, which stated that the hunters put about 520 pounds of meat and antler weight on the plane. The report said that was about 50 to 70 pounds more than the first flight back.
Accounts from the hunters in the report stated that some of the meat was secured in the rear passenger compartment, using seat belts to strap it down, while the rest was found in the belly pod of the plane, according to investigators examining the wreckage. The antlers were secured onto the right wing strut.
When the plane departed, the hunters reportedly noticed that it took longer for the plane to lift off the ground — the report states that about 530 feet of ground was covered before liftoff — and the plane appeared to be more “labored” than the previous flight’s takeoff.
“Obviously we are going to be looking at performance issues here and the loading of the aircraft,” Clint Johnson, the Alaska Region Chief for NTSB, said. “So at this point right now, we don’t know exactly what the limitation was. This airplane had been modified a number of times. It supposedly has what is referred to a gross weight increase, but we haven’t had a chance to see the records yet.”
The report says the plane pitched up and turned sharply to the right upon takeoff and disappeared behind a nearby ridge. A video captured by one of the hunters showed the plane appeared to be operating normally with no mechanical malfunctions, the report stated, but the video stopped before the crash. Johnson said, NTSB will use the recording to examine the crash.
“Probably the most importantly the sound, the recording of the engine while taking off,” Johnson said.
When the plane did not reappear from behind the ridge, the hunters “ran to the top of the ridgeline, looked down, and saw that the airplane had crashed.”
The report stated that the plane came to rest about 600 feet east of the departure end of the airstrip, amid tundra, grass, and low shrubs.
The report also said Peltola was still conscious when the hunters arrived at the crash site, but died within two hours.
The NTSB said it most likely won’t issue a final report until a year.
Rep. Peltola’s team noted that it does not have any further statements about NTSB’s investigation.
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