NTSB: Pilot said he'd 'run into the side of a mountain' after deadly Denali Park crash in 2018
The National Transportation Safety Board released the factual report for the deadly Talkeetna, Alaska crash, which details more information gathered in the investigation into the crash. It is not a probable cause report, which could be released in the next month or so, according to NTSB Alaska chief Clint Johnson.
On Aug. 4, 2018, the K2 Aviation plane left Talkeetna, Alaska, for what was supposed to be a one-hour flightseeing tour. There were five people on board - Craig Layson, a pilot with almost 45 years of flying experience from Michigan, and four Polish passengers visiting Alaska on an overseas tour.
According to the report, the plane was meant to fly over a few different glaciers before going over to Denali Base Camp and then returning to Talkeetna's airport. Instead, while the plane's global positioning system indicated the aircraft flew over base camp at around quarter to 6 that evening, the tracker suddenly stopped moving.
At 11,000 feet, perched atop a particularly unstable plot of ice and snow, the plane came to rest on a knife-edge ridge about 14 miles from Denali's summit.
The report says at around 6 p.m. the pilot placed a satellite phone call to personnel at K2 Aviation.
According to another company pilot that overheard the call, Layson said on the call: "[W]e've run into the side of a mountain" and that they were in need of rescue. The phone connection was then lost.
After several attempts, contact was again made with the pilot, who said he was trapped in the wreckage and there were possibly two dead. No further information was received before the connection was lost again.
According to the report, company records showed the pilot had accumulated about 2,550 total hours of flight experience, of which about 216 were in the previous 90 days and 78.8 were in the previous 30 days from the date of the crash.
The plane, a de Havilland Beaver built in 1957, had had a mechanical inspection 49 flight hours before the crash.
As for weather conditions at or around the time of the crash, weather station models in the area of the crash around the time of the accident depicted light winds, broken to overcast clouds, and temperatures between 58°F and 64°F.
But the plane was found about 11,000 feet above sea level. There, the NTSB report says the temperature was below freezing, about 28 degrees Fahrenheit, with a relative humidity of 96% and wind from the southwest at 6 knots.
Weather after the crash prevented rescuers from reaching the site quickly. The plane was found on Aug. 6, two days after the crash. Due to the location of the wreckage, NTSB personnel were not able to get to the accident site.
National Park Service rangers were able to reach the site on Aug. 6. NTSB says the airplane was broken into pieces and the right wing had separated and fallen several hundred feet below the main wreckage. The fuselage was fractured behind the wing and the fuselage was splayed open with blown snow inside.
A Park Ranger suspended from below a helicopter was able to get inside the snowy fuselage and found the pilot and three passengers dead. The ranger could not find the fourth passenger before he had to leave the plane due to deteriorating weather conditions.
NPS conducted a second site assessment mission on August 10. During this mission, the final passenger was located in the rear section of the fuselage and was confirmed deceased.
The National Park Service determined that recovery of the plane or the bodies of the victims was too risky an endeavor, and the plane was left at the crash site.
The K2 Aviation base chief pilot told the NTSB that glacier tour flights were not conducted over a fixed route; routes were subject to change at the pilot's discretion based on the weather conditions at the time of the flight to provide the best tour experience.
The chief pilot also stated that pilots were expected to report to base operations when changing the planned route of a flight; however, this was not a requirement contained within the company's general operations manual.
Park Service rangers flew past the crash site in April 2019. They found that, during the winter, the hazardous hanging glacier at the crash site calved, releasing an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 tons of ice and debris.
Further inspection of HD photos taken during the assessment flight confirmed that the wreckage was not visible on the mountain face or in the surface debris at the base of Thunder Mountain.