HISTORY OF FLIGHT Use your browsers 'back' function to return to synopsisReturn to Query Page
On February 1, 1997, about 1427 Alaska standard time, a wheel equipped Piper PA-22 airplane, N7235D, was destroyed when it collided with terrain about 45 miles northwest of Skwentna, Alaska. The private certificated pilot and two family members/passengers aboard were fatally injured. The personal, 14 CFR Part 91, cross country flight departed Port Alsworth, Alaska, about 1200, en route to Merrill Field, Anchorage, Alaska. A visual flight rules flight plan was filed.
The pilot contacted the Kenai FAA Flight Service Station (FSS) about 1113 and requested a weather briefing for a route of flight from Port Alsworth, to Merrill Field, via Lake Clark pass. The FAA specialist briefed the pilot, issuing information which included the current conditions of low fog and stratus over Cook Inlet and the Kenai Peninsula, with pockets of IFR weather. The forecast was for improving weather, with VFR conditions along the route of flight after 1200. The pilot filed a VFR flight plan, and asked the FAA FSS specialist to open the flight plan for him at 1200, the time the pilot estimated he would be airborne. On the flight plan, the pilot estimated his time en route as 2-1/2 hours, and his total fuel on board as three hours.
The pilot radioed the Anchorage Air Traffic Approach Control facility about 1350 and requested assistance in determining his position. He indicated he was on top of an overcast, and believed he was near Fire Island, a few miles from Anchorage. The pilot was not instrument rated, and his airplane was not equipped with a transponder, or for flight in instrument meteorological conditions. With the assistance of approach controllers and flight service station specialists, the pilot's position was tentatively determined at 1415 to be in the vicinity of Mt. Russell, located about 53 statue miles northwest of Skwentna, or about 124 miles northwest of Anchorage.
Attempts were made to help orient the pilot and direct him to an area of better weather. The pilot indicated he did not believe his loran navigation unit was working properly, and he noted a large disparity between his wet (magnetic) compass and his DG (directional gyro-heading indicator). At one point, he noted his DG was 340 degrees, and his compass was reading 180 degrees. At 1413 the pilot was asked if he could see the ground at all. He responded: "ah no that's a negative", and later, at 1414, "okay ah yeah I can't see anything now I'm not exactly sure where we are but we need to do something quick." At 1415 the pilot radioed he was: "...at ten one right now right at the cloud tops going through some right now." A FSS specialist contacted the pilot at 1419 and advised of VFR conditions on the west side of the Alaska Range near Mc Grath, and offered a heading to fly that direction. The pilot responded he didn't have enough fuel to fly over the range, noting he had about 1/2 hour left. Radio contact with the pilot was lost about 1424 (see attached FAA air traffic control transcripts of radio communications).
At 1521, an emergency locator transmitter signal was received from the accident airplane in the vicinity of the Dall Glacier, about 45 miles northwest of Skwentna.
Rescue personnel reached the accident site on February 5, after numerous weather delays. The crash location was approximately 2,700 feet msl on the Dall Glacier, geographic coordinates North 62.37.60, West 152.03.66. The accident site is approximately 116 statue miles northwest of Merrill Field, the pilot's intended destination.
Rescuers discovered the airplane in a near vertical position. The front portion of the airplane was imbedded in snow and ice up to approximately the leading edge of the wings.
An FAA inspector and a representative of Piper Aircraft went to the crash site. They discovered all major components of the airplane were located with the airplane at the crash site. Control continuity was established from the flight control surfaces to the cabin floor near the control column, where cabin crushing precluded further investigation. The airplane's fuel selector handle was positioned to the left wing tank. The left wing tank held an estimated 5 to 6 gallons of gasoline. The right wing had a trace of fuel. The airplane was not equipped with any electronic navigational aids other than a loran. It did have an artificial horizon, and a heading indicator installed. No evidence of any preimpact mechanical anomaly with the airplane was discovered during their examination.
Bradley W. Johnson was the 27 year old pilot-in-command. He held a Private Pilot certificate with an airplane single engine land rating. His pilot and medical certificates indicated he was prohibited from flying at night.
At the time his pilot's certificate was issued on March 3, 1992, his application noted 81 total flight hours, with 61 hours of instruction. His last FAA Class 3 Medical Certificate was issued on April 18, 1995. On his last application for a medical certificate, the pilot indicated his total flight time was 90 hours, with zero hours flown in the last six months.
No pilot records were made available to the FAA or NTSB investigators. Based on the number of hours noted on the pilot's last medical application, and the amount of time the accident airplane was flown since its last annual inspection, the pilot's total flight time was estimated to be approximately 120 hours.
The area outlook for Cook Inlet and the Susitna Valley, valid until 1800 local, noted scattered clouds at 2,000 feet, broken at 10,000 feet, with tops to 14,000 feet, and a few layers above the tops to flight level 200. Until 1200, isolated ceilings below 1000 feet and visibility below three miles were forecast.
The nearest airport to the accident site with weather reporting capabilities was at Talkeetna, Alaska. Talkeetna is located about 65 miles east of the accident site. Reported cloud bases and visibility for Talkeetna at 1357 was: few clouds at 800 feet, ceiling 1,500 broken, 3,000 feet overcast; visibility, seven miles in light snow. A special weather observation at 1437 recorded: ceiling 800 feet broken, 1,500 feet overcast; visibility 2 miles in light snow and mist.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on the pilot by the Medical Examiner's Office of the State of Alaska, 5700 East Tudor Road, Anchorage, Alaska. The cause of death was noted as blunt impact injuries.
The Apollo brand Loran found in the accident airplane was removed and taken to Northern Lights Avionics in Anchorage for testing. The unit functioned normally when the power was applied, and the memory displayed numerous stored waypoints, including Anchorage International Airport, and Merrill Field.
The FAA inspector who participated in the on scene investigation, interviewed two air taxi pilots who had been flying in the vicinity of Cook Inlet and the Alaska Range on the day of the accident. Both pilots noted convective cloud activity throughout much of the afternoon hours.