NTSB: Fatal Alaska accident involving Ted Stevens caused by pilot’s temporary unresponsiveness

The airplane wreckage (photo: NTSB)

The U.S. NTSB concluded their investigation into the cause of the August 2010 fatal accident involving a DHC-3T Turbine Otter in Alaska.  Former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens was among the five fatalities. 

On August 9, 2010, the single-engine, turbine-powered, amphibious float-equipped de Havilland DHC-3T airplane, N455A, impacted mountainous, tree-covered terrain about 10 nautical miles northeast of Aleknagik, Alaska. The airline transport pilot and four passengers received fatal injuries, and four passengers received serious injuries.
The flight was operated by GCI Communication Corp. from a GCI-owned private lodge on the shore of Lake Nerka and was en route to a remote sport fishing camp about 52 nm southeast on the Nushagak River.

Marginal visual flight rules were reported at Dillingham Airport, Dillingham, Alaska, about 18 nm south of the accident site.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the probable cause of this accident was the pilot’s temporary unresponsiveness for reasons that could not be established from the available information. Contributing to the investigation’s inability to determine exactly what occurred in the final minutes of the flight was the lack of a cockpit recorder system with the ability to capture audio, images, and parametric data.

The NTSB noted that fatigue, stress or a  medical condition could have been a factor in the pilot’s temporary unresponsiveness.  However, there is insufficient evidence to determine whether these factors played a role in the accident.

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3 Responses to NTSB: Fatal Alaska accident involving Ted Stevens caused by pilot’s temporary unresponsiveness

  1. Fred Ball says:

    Gentlemen, I have flown Alaska for more than 30 years. I have seen some of the worst weather conditions on Kodiak Island and Bristol Bay that one can imagine. I have a real difficult time with your vague conclusion as to a “temporary unresponsive” pilot. This was a pilot who has flown thousands of hours of IFR. This is a pilot who was unfamiliar with the area. This was a pilot who definitely had turned his TAWS system off because he did not want to listen to the Terrain audible warning going off constantly due the fact that he was flying lower than 1000 feet above the ground. Pilots who fly in lower than standard visibility conditions and attempt to stay VFR will do one of two things. They will either get below the clouds enough to have forward visibility or they will fly with they wings at the base of the clouds so they can have a bit more altitude and can still see vertically. I grew up in Dillingham and flew many hours in the area as well as on Kodiak Island. If Mr. Smith was unaware of the hills in front of him and flew at the base of the clouds, he would believe that he had a clear run between River Bay on Lake Nerka and the Nushagak River Camp. I suggest that Mr. Smith, although a very high profile pilot did not know the area well enough to be flying at the base of the clouds with vertical visibility and no forward visibility. He would not have been aware of rising terrain because he had his TAWS system shut off as we all do when we are below 1000 feet AGL. For you folks to even suggest that he might have been Temporarily Unresponsive is an extremely vague conclusion to this situation. It also sets a dangerous precedent. This will give somebody the excuse to make up some new ruling about something to make the rest of General Aviation come up with some magic fix to keep us all from killing ourselves. An example of this is, we all get to take our shoes off going through the TSA security because some idiot tried to set off a bomb in his shoes. You can not fix the problem of people killing themselves in Airplane by trying to regulate some obscure fix that costs us thousands of dollars but makes you folks feel like you can justify your jobs. I say, get it right and if you dont know what happened, tell us you dont know and quit this nonsense of speculating about some obscure Temporary Unresponsive theory. Also saying that the weather was not an apparent issue is total irresponsibility on your part. We all know that weather was an issue. Familiarity of area was an issue. You also made it mandatory to put a TAWS system in all turbine aircraft. This was a mistake as well. It only belongs in aircraft that are flow IFR and should not have been required in VFR aircraft. This is a prime example of why General Aviation was forced to install a system that not designed for this type of flying.

    Sorry to vent folks but somebody has to tell it like it really is.

    Fred Ball ATP Mel Mes 1847291

    • Harro Ranter says:

      Fred: Thanks for your opinion. Just for the record, you write “your vague conclusion”. Please note that this was the conclusion of the NTSB, not the Aviation Safety Network.

    • Randy Rogers says:

      Fred’s observations and passion are on-target in my opinion. As long as we are free to make our own decisions we will be making some poor ones. Heaping additional regulation upon us will never be a fix.

      Randy Rogers, Commercial, S/MEL, SES, “lifer” flight service guy

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