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NTSB releases prelim report on fatal aircraft accident


The plane piloted by Scott Veal after the fatal accident. photos courtesy of Megan Peters/AST

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a preliminary report on what happened on September 2, 2011 to cause the Cessna 208 Caravan piloted by Scott Veal to crash on the tundra near Nightmute.

Veal, age 24 died in the accident in a crash after colliding mid-air with another airplane. The other pilot, Kristen Sprague flying the other aircraft, age 26 of Idaho survived the mishap.

According to the NTSB, on September 2, 2011, about 1:35pm, a Cessna 208B (Caravan) airplane piloted by Veal for Grant Aviation, and a Cessna 207 airplane piloted by Sprague for Ryan Air, collided in midair, approximately 9 miles north of Nightmute, Alaska.

Both airplanes were being operated as visual flight rules (VFR) when the accident occurred. Both airplanes sustained substantial damage during the midair collision.

After the collision, the Cessna 208B descended, uncontrolled, and impacted tundra-covered terrain. A postcrash Fire consumed most of the wreckage.

The Cessna 207 was further damaged during a forced landing on the tundra. Both airplanes were based at the Bethel Airport.

The Cessna 208B departed from the Toksook Bay airport about 1:25pm to Bethel. The Cessna 207 departed from the Tununak airport, about 1:15pm also returning to Bethel.

During separate telephone conversations with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator-in-charge on September 2, the chief pilot for Ryan Air, as well as the director of operations for Grant Aviation, independently reported that both pilots had a close personal relationship.

During an initial interview with the NTSB IIC on September 3, in Bethel, Sprague reported that both airplanes departed from the neighboring Alaskan villages about the same time, and both airplanes were en route to Bethel along similar flight routes.

She said that just after takeoff from Tununak, she talked with the pilot of the Cessna 208B on a prearranged, discreet radio frequency, and the two agreed to rendezvous for the flight back to Bethel.

She said that while in cruise level flight at 1,200 feet, en route to Bethel, the pilot of the Cessna 208B flew his airplane along the left side of her airplane, and they continued to talk via radio. She said that the pilot of the 208B then unexpectedly and unannounced climbed his airplane above, and overtop of her airplane. She immediately told the pilot of the 208B that she could not see him, and she was concerned about where he was. She said the 208B pilot then said, in part: "Whatever you do, don't pull up."

Moments later, the next thing she recalls was the 208B's impact with her airplane's right wing.

The 207 pilot reported that after the impact, she saw the 208B pass underneath her airplane, and it began a gradual descent, which steepened as the airplane continued to the left and away from her airplane. Sprague said that she told the pilot of the 208B that she thought she was going to crash. The pilot of the 208B stated that he also thought he was going to crash. She said that she watched as the 208B continued to descend, then it entered a steep, vertical, nose down descent, before it collided with the ground. She said a postcrash Fire started instantaneously upon impact.

The pilot, Kristen Sprague, emergency-landed her plane safely. photos courtesy of Megan Peters/AST

The 207 pilot said that while struggling to maintain control of her airplane, she was unable to maintain altitude, and she selected an area of rolling tundra as a forced landing site. She said that during the emergency descent, she had limited roll control, and the airplane's stall horn was on during the entire emergency approach. The airplane touched down on the soft terrain, and the nose landing gear collapsed.

On September 3, the NTSB IIC, along with an Alaska State Trooper, and a Federal Aviation Administration operations inspector from the Anchorage Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), examined the wreckage sites. The wreckage of the Cessna 207 was located about 1 mile to the east of the Cessna 208B. Both aircraft came to rest in an area of tundra-covered, hilly terrain.

The Cessna 208B's severed vertical stabilizer and rudder assemblies were found about one-half mile west of the main wreckage site, and along the two airplanes' reported flight route. A large portion of the Cessna 207's right aileron was found near the 208's rudder and stabilizer.

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