Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Clues From Survivors


Survivors can provide new information or confirm what came from another source


Survivors don't always remember very much about an accident. In some cases, memory is affected by the body going into shock or receiving physical injury. Sometimes, an event is so horrifying that recall is blocked by mental mechanisms the brain provides for protection. When survivors do remember the unfolding of an accident scenario, or can supply details of preflight and in-flight activities, investigators are rewarded with unique information that otherwise might be unattainable. The NTSB recently completed its investigations into three accidents in which survivors were able to recall significant details for the agency's investigators.

Cessna 207
A Cessna 207 was on a Part 135 on-demand charter flight from McGrath, Alaska, to Anvik, Alaska, when it crashed in mountainous terrain about 37 miles west of McGrath. There were six people on board. The pilot and one passenger died at the scene, and the other four passengers received serious injuries. Although the airplane departed in VFR conditions, IFR was reported along the route of flight. The entire flight was supposed to have been conducted in VFR conditions. The charter company had procedures in place for keeping tabs on the progress of its VFR flights. Investigators could find no record of a weather briefing having been obtained by the pilot before departure.

The passenger who was in the right front seat was interviewed by the NTSB's investigator while still in the hospital. His wife and two children also were passengers on the flight. He said the adults were school teachers, and they were being taken to Anvik before the start of the school year.

The passenger told the investigator that about 20 minutes after they took off from McGrath, as the flight was entering mountainous terrain, visibility began to drop due to low clouds, rain and fog. The passenger related that, at one point, the pilot commented, "This is getting pretty bad." The passenger said that the pilot then descended the airplane and continued flying it very close to the ground. The passenger said the airplane then climbed, but didn't stay at the higher altitude for too long before the pilot again descended.

The passenger told the investigator that it wasn't long after that when the airplane entered what the passenger described as "whiteout conditions." The next thing the passenger recalled was looking out the front windscreen and, just before impact seeing the mountainside suddenly appear out of the fog. He said that he lost consciousness as a result of the impact, and assumed that all of the survivors lost consciousness at the same time. He was the first to regain consciousness.

The passenger recalled that while boarding the airplane in McGrath, he happened to notice a satellite personal tracker that was clipped to the pilot's sun visor. He said that after the accident, he was able to find the device in the wreckage and began pushing the emergency SOS button. As a result of that action, the pilot's family members in Wasilla, Alaska, were notified that an alert signal had been received and they, in turn, called the charter company.

Company personnel had already started a telephone and radio search to try to locate the airplane because it hadn't arrived in Anvik when due. They thought the pilot might have diverted to another village. Being unable to find the aircraft by phone or radio, company personnel began an aerial search. The FAA subsequently issued a formal alert for the missing airplane, and search-and-rescue personnel from the Air National Guard's 210th Air Rescue Squadron in Anchorage began looking for the missing airplane. The crew of an Air National Guard C-130 tracked an analog 121 MHz ELT signal to an area of mountainous terrain, but the poor weather prevented searchers from reaching the site until the next morning. The four seriously injured passengers remained at the accident site overnight. In the morning, they were evacuated aboard an Air National Guard HH-60G helicopter.



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