Feds release probable causes in 2 fatal Alaska crashes

AP News
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Posted: Feb 26, 2016 11:30 PM

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Pilot error and flawed safety procedures by an Alaska commuter air company contributed to a fatal plane crash in 2013 outside the village of St. Mary's, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a report released Friday.

In addition, the failure of the Federal Aviation Administration to hold Hageland Aviation accountable for correcting known operating deficiencies also contributed to the crash, the NTSB said in a probable cause report.

The report was one of two released Friday on fatal Alaska crashes. In the other, the safety board concluded two Hageland pilots died in a 2014 training crash after a newly hired pilot delayed recovering control of the aircraft after the trainer had placed it in a simulated in-flight emergency.

Hageland is under the corporate umbrella of HoTH Inc., which also does business as Ravn Alaska, Ravn Connect and Corvus Airlines. The fatal crashes and other incidents played a part in the NTSB in 2014 recommending that HoTH companies undergo a comprehensive safety audit and that FAA oversight of the company be reviewed.

The FAA in a statement released by spokesman Allen Kenitzer said the agency has worked closely to make significant permanent changes in the way HoTH companies conduct flight operations. The FAA also restructured its Alaskan Region Flight Standards Division for enhanced oversight of commuter air carriers, the agency said.

"The oversight program includes new safety management systems, which help identify potential problems early on, ensure operators address them, and ensure operators' measures are effective," the agency said.

Messages left Friday with the media spokesman listed on the Ravn Alaska website were not immediately returned.

The company in a statement Wednesday said it has worked diligently with the NTSB and the agency in the report acknowledged changes, including a new company operations control center to handle release and dispatch of flights.

The Nov. 29, 2013, crash outside St. Mary's killed pilot Terry Hansen, 68, and three passengers. The airplane left Bethel for Mountain Village and began icing up in thick, cold fog. The pilot tried diverting to St. Mary's, overflew the village and crashed on a ridge.

Hansen's decision to use visual flight rules as he approached St. Mary's in conditions that called for an instrument approach contributed to the crash, the NTSB concluded. The failure by Hageland flight coordinators to discuss flight risks that night resulted in the pilot "experiencing a loss of situational awareness," which the FAA defines as accurately perceiving what is happening in the environment, understanding the implications of what has been perceived, and the ability to project into the future.

The April 8, 2014, crash also originated in Bethel and killed pilots Derrick Cedars, 42, of Bethel and newly hired Greggory McGee, 46, of Anchorage during McGee's first company training flight in a Cessna 208B Caravan. After interviews with other pilots who had trained with Cedars, the NTSB concluded the crash likely occurred after simulation of an emergency and a rapid descent.

The board concluded Cedars likely delayed a recovery procedure as the airplane dove until it was too late to regain control of the airplane.