On December 22, 2000, about 1415 Alaska Standard Time, a Piper PA-31-350 airplane, N63MB, sustained substantial damage when it collided with terrain, about 50 miles east-southeast of Deadhorse, Alaska, at 69.4373 degrees north latitude, and 146.5881 degrees west longitude. The airline transport certificated pilot, and one of the two passengers, received minor injuries; the remaining passenger was not injured. The flight was operated as an on-demand, 14 CFR, Part 135 air taxi flight, by Wright Air Service, Fairbanks, Alaska, and was en route to a remote airstrip and oil production camp at Kavik, Alaska. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed at the accident site at the time of the accident. A VFR flight plan was filed, and a special VFR departure was issued for the flight's departure from Deadhorse at 1339. Prior to Deadhorse, the flight initially departed Fairbanks, Alaska, about 1010, with a destination of Kavik, Alaska. Use your browsers 'back' function to return to synopsisReturn to Query Page
A review of FAA air traffic control records, and transcripts of telephone and radio transmissions between the pilot and FAA personnel, disclosed that on December 22, at 0756, the pilot contacted an FAA specialist at the Fairbanks Automated Flight Service Station (AFSS) to obtain a weather briefing for a flight from Fairbanks to Kavik. The briefing included current observations and forecasts for less than VFR weather conditions along the intended route of flight. After the briefing, the pilot indicated he might be taking a twin-engine airplane instead of a single-engine because of weather considerations. He indicated he would call later to file a flight plan. The pilot called again at 0935, received an abbreviated briefing, and filed both an IFR and a VFR flight plan. The IFR flight plan was to Deadhorse; the VFR flight plan was to Kavik, and return to Fairbanks.
The flight departed Fairbanks about 1010, and the pilot opened his VFR flight plan via radio at 1027. The flight flew over Kavik, but did not land. According to a witness at Kavik, the pilot radioed overhead, said the weather was "crappy," and they were going to Deadhorse. According to one of the passengers, they arrived over Kavik, circled, and went into clouds. She related that the pilot took out some maps, continued to circle, and then said they had to go to Deadhorse for some fuel. En route to Deadhorse, the pilot noted that the airplane's GPS had frozen over Kavik, but that it started working again as they approached Deadhorse.
FAA air traffic control records indicate that the flight requested a special VFR clearance into the Deadhorse Class D airspace, but was denied a clearance due to IFR traffic. The pilot subsequently received an IFR approach clearance, and landed at 1310. After refueling, a special VFR departure clearance to the southeast was issued to the pilot at 1339; he reported clear of the Class D airspace at 1343.
During a telephone interview on December 23, with the NTSB investigator-in-charge and an FAA Fairbanks Flight Standards District Office inspector, the pilot related he was descending from 1,700 feet msl to pattern altitude in preparation for landing at Kavik. He said he inadvertently encountered clouds, or fog, during a left descending turn at 130 knots indicated airspeed, lost outside visual reference, and collided with terrain about 700 feet msl. He said the left wing separated from the airplane during the impact sequence.
A written record of interview between an FAA inspector and a ground witness contained, in part, the following: "On the return trip from Deadhorse, the weather was better with patchy ground fog and dusky daylight conditions. He [the pilot] called in and said the weather still looked bad, but would try again. That was the last contact I had with the aircraft."
According to an FAA inspector's written record of telephone interview, a passenger sitting in the right-front seat of the airplane said, in part: "When we were about five miles out, the pilot put his gear down, turned left, and descended into the fog. We weren't even close to the camp, or airstrip, when he turned left and descended." The FAA inspector asked the passenger if they had ground contact. The passenger is quoted as responding: "No, we didn't see the ground until just prior to hitting the hill."
In a written statement from a passenger, the passenger wrote: "After refueling we took off again for Kavik, Jay [the pilot] said he'd have time for one pass before dark, and if he couldn't locate it, he'd have to head back to Fairbanks."
The end of civil twilight at Kavik on the day of the accident was calculated to be 1457.
The Kavik airstrip is approximately 650 feet msl, and does not have FAA-approved runway lighting which would allow night operations for commercial aircraft. At the time of the accident, flare pots reportedly illuminated the runway.
According to rescue personnel, and personnel from Kavik, the accident site was approximately 5 miles west-northwest of Kavik.