Category Archives: aviation

Plane crash claims 2 lives — Cessna 180 clips trees, crashes off South Cohoe Loop in Kasilof

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Above, an Alaska State Trooper, the first responder on the scene, looks for survivors in the wreckage of a Cessna 180 that crashed in Kasilof on Saturday. Two people were aboard. There were no survivors. Below, Central Emergency Services firefighters extinguish the fire sparked by the crash at about 8:11 p.m.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Above, an Alaska State Trooper, the first responder on the scene, looks for survivors in the wreckage of a Cessna 180 that crashed in Kasilof on Saturday. Two people were aboard. There were no survivors. Below, Central Emergency Services firefighters extinguish the fire sparked by the crash at about 8:11 p.m.

Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Investigators are trying to discover the cause of a plane crash Saturday night in Kasilof that killed two local men.

Pilot Brian Nolan, 69, and 57-year-old Peter Lahndt, both of Kasilof, died when Nolan’s Cessna 180 crashed into a stand of trees about 150 feet from Cohoe Loop Road, just inland from the bluff over Cook Inlet near the mouth of the Kasilof River. The plane immediately burst into flames. The crash was not survivable, according to an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board.

The plane went down around 8:11 p.m. Saturday at Mile 3.2 South Cohoe Loop Road, near Powder Keg Avenue. Dan Brown lives across the street and a little to the south of the crash site. He heard the plane throttle up, then crash a second or so later.

“Right after I heard him gun it I heard the impact on the ground. And so I knew it had crashed. It was just really, really quick. In fact at that time I was on the telephone. I said, ‘A plane just crashed I gotta go,’” Brown said.

Brown and two of his daughters jumped in his car and were at the crash site within about two minutes, where they could already see smoke rising from the trees.

“When I got there you could tell where the plane had clipped some spruce trees and where it had to have flipped over because it went into the round tail first from the direction is was coming from. So it hit trees, broke the tops of the trees off and then hit going backwards,” Brown said.

The plane was already on fire and the heat was too intense for Brown to get up to the wreckage.

“I couldn’t get close enough to it. I felt real bad about it (that) I couldn’t get in there. I couldn’t hear anything from them, there was no noise from anybody in the plane. I went around both sides of it trying to get into it and I couldn’t, it was too hot,” he said.

Within about 45 seconds the flames got even more intense.

plane crash four“That fuel really got going and then the whole thing was engulfed in flames and you couldn’t be within about 20 feet of it,” Brown said.

He made about a 50-foot circle around the plane, looking to see if anyone had been thrown from the wreckage. By that time the plane’s tires burst into flames, and Brown started hearing explosions.

“I’m pretty sure they had quite a bit of ammunition on board. It sounded like a war down there,” he said.

He told his daughters to get back to the road while he made another wider loop around the plane, looking for survivors. As he did something hit him in the leg. It was smoldering and left a black mark, but didn’t penetrate the skin. Brown decided he’d better get back to the road, too.

Central Emergency Services and Alaska State Troopers from Soldotna responded to several reports of the downed plane and fire. Traffic on South Cohoe Loop was restricted until about 10:30 p.m. CES had the fire extinguished by about 8:50 p.m.

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Seldovia turkeys face chopping block

Photos courtesy of Liane Crosta. One of two remaining wild turkeys in Seldovia face extermination by order of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

Photos courtesy of Liane Crosta. One of two remaining wild turkeys in Seldovia face extermination by order of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

By Hannah Heimbuch

Homer Tribune

Next week the Seldovia City Council will discuss the fate of several local turkeys living near the airport, deemed a hazard by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

Two male turkeys, descendants of about 45 released by two Seldovians nearly 10 years ago, are thought to be the only birds remaining from the original flock.

“There was nine of them when the winter started,” said Micahel Opheim, a 40-year resident of Seldovia who would like to see the birds preserved. “In the last month all of the hens have disappeared.”

The birds have been a pleasant part of the community for years, Opheim said, and he is frustrated with the approach taken by the state. It started a year ago, he said, when a request to dispose of the birds came up at city council through an ADOT employee.

“The council opened it up to public comment, and there was quite a number of people in town that stood up and said, ‘No, we don’t want these birds shot,’” he said.

The request has made another formal appearance in city business recently, in the form of a March 25 letter from Jeffrey Doerning, aviation safety and security officer for the ADOT Central Region.

“It has come to my attention that past issues with local turkeys frequenting the runway at the Seldovia Airport are once again posing a hazard to the flying public,” wrote Doerning in his letter to Seldovia City Manager Tim Dillon.

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Federal budget cuts already felt

By Naomi Klouda, Homer Tribune

Photo by Naomi Klouda, Homer Tribune. Steve Delehanty, manager of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge at the Islands and Ocean Visitor Center, already has been dealing with budget-trimming directives from the federal government.

Federal employees make up 33 percent of the state’s employment picture, and a new retirement incentive in place is encouraging 10 percent of them to retire.

The potential to lose the more experienced wildlife biologists, NOAA experts and career professionals in National Marine Fisheries Service could cause a significant impact in coastal communities along Kachemak Bay.

In the Homer area, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife is the largest federal employer with 25 to 30 people, including seasonal workers. Employees of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge at the Islands and Ocean Visitor Center building already went through heavy budget cuts last year, said Refuge Manager Steve Delehanty.

An incentive system to encourage longer-term employees to retire is in place until Dec. 31. The idea isn’t a mandate or a layoff, said USFWS spokesman Bruce Woods. But in the long term, it could save the wildlife service millions of dollars in salaries.

In return, the retirees get $150 to $200 more per month than they will if they put off retirement until next year.

Delehanty said he doesn’t anticipate losing any of his employees to early retirement. This refuge’s painful budget cuts came last year when four positions were cut or not filled and other decisions had to be made, including docking the research ship MV Tiglax for two weeks to cut staff and fuel costs from the budget.

“Our budget is flat, so when we made the decisions to cut, it was to make it balance. We were choosing between fuel for our building and the ship and other cuts,” he said. “We made the painful decision to tie up our ship for a couple of weeks. We didn’t fill a receptionist position — when you call there’s no receptionist to answer the phone. We cut hours the visitor’s center is open.”

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Almanac: Stroke of luck — History of swimming served Tustumena crash survivor well

Editor’s note: This is the third of a three-part story about a 1965 Cordova Airlines crash into Tustumena Lake. Part one began with the aftermath. Part two explained how the accident occurred. This week, part three concludes with the efforts of the lone survivor. Harold H. Galliett, Jr., bucked the odds.

By Clark Fair

Redoubt Reporter

Even in the summertime, the silt-laden waters of Tustumena Lake are notoriously cold. Fed by mountain streams and Tustumena Glacier, the surface temperature is regularly in the 40s, greatly increasing the likelihood of hypothermia and greatly reducing the likelihood of survival.

Tustumena Lake has claimed many drowning victims over the years, but it didn’t claim Harold Galliett.

On Sept. 4, 1965, Galliett and four other individuals abandoned a sinking

Photo courtesy of Galliett family. Seen here is the 42-foot Aero Grand Commander that crashed into Tustumena Lake in 1965. Harold Galliett was the sole survivor.

commercial airplane, and he alone was able to swim more than a mile to shore and survive.

The aircraft was a 42-foot Aero Grand Commander operated by Cordova Airlines pilot Bob Barton. With the lake as flat and smooth as glass and the cloud ceiling only 300 feet high it is likely that Barton, struggling to distinguish air from water, flew the plane right onto the surface of the lake, where it came to rest about a mile from the northern shore and sank in a matter of minutes.

On board besides Galliett and Barton were Mr. and Mrs. Antonio Cuerde, of Port Graham, and Nikiski construction worker Raymond M. Puckett. They were all in the water — and all but Barton supported by seat cushions for flotation — sometime around 9:45 a.m. The air temperature was approximately 50 degrees, and the upper layer of water was likely between 40 and 50 degrees.

Less than five minutes after contact with the lake, their plane had vanished, drifting toward the bottom of the lake nearly 140 feet below their churning legs.

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Almanac: Water crash douses hope for survival — Tustumena Lake swallows plane after pilot misjudges horizon line

Editor’s note: This is the second of a three-part story about a 1965 Cordova Airlines crash into Tustumena Lake. Last week began with the aftermath. This week will explain how the accident occurred. Next week will conclude with the efforts of the lone survivor.

By Clark Fair

Photos courtesy of the Galliett family. In the airplane photo from the 1960s, Harold Galliett Jr. stands with his three children (from left), Norman, Roger and Ana Marie, in front of his Cessna 195 in the 1960s.

Redoubt Reporter

The speculation about the cause of the Cordova Airlines crash into Tustumena Lake on Sept. 4, 1965, centers on the fallibility of the human senses in certain conditions and on the need, therefore, to trust one’s instruments.

The National Transportation Safety Board investigation of the crash determined the probable cause to be that the pilot had “misjudged distance and altitude” under “adverse weather conditions.”

Given the conditions, in other words, he should have trusted his eyes less and his dials more.
The pilot was 29-year-old Bob Barton — with brother, Bill, owner of Barton’s Flying Service out of Anchorage — who had 5,184 total hours of flying experience, including 403 hours in the type of plane, an Aero Grand Commander, that he was flying that day.

Barton had been a Cordova Airlines pilot for seven to eight years, flying previously out of Cordova, Gulkana and Yakutat.

After the crash, he would leave behind a wife named Sharon and a 6-year-old daughter named Sandra.
Barton’s first stop occurred sometime between 7 and 7:30 a.m. in Homer, where he received two passengers: The first was 27-year-old North Kenai construction worker Raymond M. Puckett, who had been living for the previous six years with Mr. and Mrs. Tony McGahan of Kenai and who had been a secretary to the Kenai Volunteer Fire Department.

The second passenger was 41-year-old civil engineer and land surveyor Harold H. Galliett Jr., who was a key figure in the Anchorage Utility Company and was under contract at that time to work on a water and sewer project for the city of Kenai.

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Almanac: Thanks, no thanks for the wild plane ride

Editor’s note: This is the first of a three-part story about a 1965 Cordova Airlines crash into Tustumena Lake. This week begins with the aftermath.

By Clark Fair

Redoubt Reporter

One day in 1966, a visitor came to the office of Harold H. Galliett Jr. and offered him something he didn’t want.

Galliett was a civil engineer at the time, working contractually on a water-and-sewer project for the city of Kenai, and his office was upstairs above the café at the Kenai Municipal Airport. His visitor was a friend named Bert Johnston, and the conversation, according to Galliett, went something like this:

“Harold, how would you like to take a ride in a plane?”

“Uh-oh. I suppose you’re going to suggest that we ride in that Grand Commander that I crashed in.”

“Well, yes.”

“Well, forget it. Not only ‘No,’ but, ‘Hell no.’”

Galliett said he wasn’t afraid to climb back into the Grand Commander, but doing so just seemed like a bad idea.

“I just thought I’d had enough of that plane for a while,” he said.

The last time he’d seen the aircraft was the previous September, and he had been standing on the leading edge of one of the wings as it sank rapidly into Tustumena Lake. As the plane vanished from sight, Galliett steeled himself against the icy water surrounding him and began to swim for his life.

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Flights of fall — Autumn aviation a popular, dangerous endeavor

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter photo. Planes are tied down at the Soldotna Airport. Fall is a busy time for private aviation, as pilots get out for hunting season. Aviation accidents also increase in fall.

Redoubt Reporter

These days — with the convenience of grocery stores, the expedient marriage of microwaves and frozen dinners, and the lure of topping off your gas fill-up with a quick meal from beneath the heat lamps — fall hunting season is no longer a do-or-die necessity to surviving the winter.

But the pull to harvest can still retain that sense of compulsion.

Complications come along with the convenience of the modern world — more commitments to jobs and bills, and communications technology that is ever harder to shut up and off. Most Alaskans don’t have to stock up on fish and game to survive the winter these days, but when they attempt to assuage the want to do so the challenge of breaking the chains to civilization and finding time to hunt can impart the feeling of urgency that necessity once did.

When an attitude of now or never ventures into the fall weather of Alaska, dangerous situations can result. That’s particularly true when airplanes are involved, as they often are in hunting season. Having a plane multiplies accessible hunting terrain, a prospect that’s even more appealing when the hunting outlook locally is dim, as it has been this year for moose on the Kenai Peninsula.

For some pilots, when the commitments of life get too demanding or the price of aviation fuel too daunting, hunting season can be the only time to do much flying. That can lead to far worse situations than an empty freezer come winter, with more people flying in fall, some with rusty skills, often into remote areas, in capricious weather conditions and under the challenges of hauling extra weight.

“In hunting season there are a lot of people flying who haven’t been flying much the rest

Photo courtesy of Joe Kashi. With views like this, it’s easy to see the appeal of fall flying in Alaska.

of the year — a little bit, maybe, but not very much, maybe not at all. Here comes hunting season, they get their airplane out, they load it up real heavy and they go out in the Bush. They just aren’t practiced enough or prepared enough, and they may have some unrealistic ideas about their own personal limitations,” said Dr. Alex Russell, a pediatrician and flight instructor in Soldotna.

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