Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Ted Stevens Accident

It looks as if we’ll never know exactly what happened

Passengers told investigators that by the time that they had lunch about 1 p.m., the weather had improved, and the group discussed with the pilot the option of going to the fishing camp. One passenger characterized the conversation as casual, and stated that no pressure was placed on the pilot to make the flight or to depart by a certain time. The GCI lodge manager and some passengers stated that they thought that the pilot checked the weather on the computer during lunch. By 2 p.m., the pilot was saying he was comfortable taking the group to the fishing camp if the group wanted to go.

The passenger who was in the right cockpit seat told investigators that after takeoff the visibility was “fine.” He said he had gone on these trips before, and this time the pilot went in a different direction after takeoff, which the pilot said was to avoid “wind and weather.” The passenger described the weather as cloudy above with light turbulence. He fell asleep after about 10 minutes. Another passenger, who was seated in the second seat behind the pilot on the left side of the airplane, said he didn’t think that the airplane flew into any clouds. He estimated that he fell asleep about three to four minutes after departure. The passengers who fell asleep had taken an over-the-counter drug to prevent airsickness.

The passenger who was in the third seat behind the pilot on the left side of the airplane stated that the pilot kept the airplane below the cloud ceiling and flew along the tree line, followed streams, and maneuvered to avoid terrain. The passenger stated that the airplane banked into a left turn (he said that the bank angle wasn’t unusual) and then immediately impacted terrain. Neither he nor the other passenger who was awake at the time of impact recalled noticing any unusual maneuvering, unusual bank or pitch angles, or change in engine noises that would indicate any problem before the airplane impacted terrain. The wreckage was found at an elevation of about 950 feet MSL in steep, wooded terrain in the Muklung Hills, about 16 nm southeast of the GCI lodge.

The pilot, age 62, was ATP rated, and had been a Boeing 737 pilot with Alaska Airlines before retiring. His FAA first-class airman medical certificate required him to wear “...corrective lenses [and] possess glasses for near [and intermediate] vision.” Records indicated he had about 27,868 total flight hours, including about 35 hours in de Havilland DHC-3 airplanes.

The pilot’s wife said that he had been very health conscious, and that he hadn’t been a coffee drinker, smoker or took any medication.

The pilot had reported to the FAA that he experienced an ICH in the right basal ganglia on March 22, 2006. The records indicated that the pilot was hospitalized, improved quickly, and was discharged six days later.

When the pilot applied for an FAA medical certificate in 2007, he was denied. A May 7, 2007, internal FAA memorandum from the Alaska Regional Flight Surgeon noted: “Airman with history of basal ganglia cerebrovascular accident in March 2006. Not hypertensive and no etiology for the cerebrovascular accident. Has family history of [cerebrovascular accidents] at relatively young ages. Has made good recovery but needs two-year recovery period. Deny for history of cerebrovascular accident.”

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