ANCHORAGE, Alaska – A 24-year-old pilot who died in a midair collision in Alaska had pulled up alongside another plane piloted by his girlfriend, then flew over the small aircraft and disappeared from her line of view, a federal investigator said Tuesday.
Kristen Sprague radioed Scott Veal that she couldn't see him and he responded by saying something like, "Whatever you do, don't pitch up," said National Transportation Safety Board investigator Clint Johnson. Within moments, Veal's Cessna 208 Caravan struck the right wing of the Cessna 207 flown by Sprague.
The collision Friday severed the vertical stabilizer and rudder on the Caravan's tail, sending Veal's plane into a nose-dive into the tundra near a western Alaska village, Johnson said.
Veal died in the fiery wreckage nine miles north of Nightmute. Johnson said his remains have been recovered.
Sprague, 26, was not injured and landed her plane about a mile away despite its seriously damaged wing. No passengers were onboard either plane.
Johnson said it was too early to determine the probable cause of the collision, which occurred 800 feet from the ground. Weather was not a factor; visibility was about 1,500 feet at the time of the crash.
It was the veteran investigator's first case involving planes flying together in such close proximity. Johnson declined to "speculate about blame."
The crash is the state's third midair collision since July. The NTSB has said the two earlier crashes involved aircraft that were difficult to spot amid mountainous terrains.
In last week's collision, Sprague and Veal were traveling together to the regional hub town of Bethel and were communicating on a predetermined radio frequency.
Sprague, who is originally from Idaho, was flying from the Bering Sea village of Tununak for rural freight carrier Ryan Air. Veal, of Kenai, was flying from nearby Toksook Bay in a plane operated by Grant Aviation, an air taxi and cargo carrier. The collision occurred less than 10 minutes into the flights.
The other midair collisions occurred in July. Corey Carlson, his wife, Hetty, and their two young daughters, all from Anchorage, were killed when their single-engine Cessna 180 floatplane crashed and burned after hitting another floatplane north of that city. The other plane was able to return to Anchorage with its pilot uninjured.
On July 10, nine people aboard a Piper Navajo and four people in a Cessna 206 were uninjured when the planes collided as they flew directly toward each other in Lake Clark Pass — a narrow river valley that runs between Anchorage mountains. Both aircraft were able to land safely.
Those two crashes about 200 miles apart prompted plans to hold at least two safety meetings with pilots on ways to see and be seen by other aircraft, said NTSB investigator Larry Lewis. He said the meetings have not been scheduled.
One of the topics to be discussed the possibility of charting some of the state's busier mountain passes below uncontrolled airspace. The charts could include details such as altitudes, possible radio frequencies, directions of travel and landmarks to improve communications between pilots.
Despite the high-profile midair collisions, fatal crashes in the airplane-reliant state are no higher than normal, according to statistics provided to The Associated Press.
So far in the fiscal year that began last October, there have been eight fatal crashes in Alaska, compared with the FAA's five-year average of nearly 10 fatal crashes. There have been 18 fatalities, compared with a five-year average of almost 21.
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