The wreckage of a crashed Airbus AS350-B3e is seen near Lituya Bay in early October in a photo provided by the National Transportation Safety Board. (Courtesy photo)

The wreckage of a crashed Airbus AS350-B3e is seen near Lituya Bay in early October in a photo provided by the National Transportation Safety Board. (Courtesy photo)

Pilot ‘rolled back throttle’ in fatal helicopter crash

14-year-old sole survivor shares memory of crash with federal investigators

The sole survivor of a fatal helicopter crash has given federal investigators their first insight into the event that killed three people Sept. 28.

In a preliminary report issued Wednesday, investigator Joshua Lindberg wrote that the 14-year-old passenger said the pilot “reached down and rolled the throttle off” before the accident and that the helicopter entered a free fall from about 500 feet up. The passenger said the pilot increased throttle before the accident, but that the helicopter still hit the beach near Lituya Bay. The passenger remembers the impact and water splashing into the wreck, but he then fell unconscious.

It was not clear which of the helicopter’s two pilots adjusted the throttle.

The passenger doesn’t know what the pilot’s actions mean, Lindberg said, and “at this point, neither do we.”

According to information initially provided to the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Park Service (then subsequently confirmed by the NTSB), the crashed helicopter was an Airbus AS350-B3e en route from the factory in Grand Prairie Texas to Anchorage. It had taken off from Juneau and was headed to Yakutat as part of its ferry flight when it crashed on a beach in Glacier Bay National Park.

Fifty-three-year-old Palmer resident David King, 42-year-old Anchorage resident Joshua Pepperd and 11-year-old Andrew Pepperd were killed in the crash. Fourteen-year-old Aiden Pepperd was found injured but alive by the U.S. Coast Guard after the accident.

While Alaska has the highest aviation accident rate in the country, according to Federal Aviation Administration statistics, this crash is somewhat unusual in that it involves a new aircraft with two pilots aboard, Lindberg said. For insurance purposes, King had been hired as a safety pilot to accompany the flight.

According to the NTSB report, which was based on GPS recordings, the helicopter left Juneau and traveled over Glacier Bay at 3,000-4,000 feet before following the coastline about 500 to 700 feet above the ground. The last GPS reading had the helicopter at 500 feet.

Investigators arrived at the wreckage two days after the accident, but the tide had washed away some of the debris, Lindberg said. While part of the instrument panel was among the pieces washed away, the NTSB did recover the engine data recorder, engine control unit and a camera that monitored the instruments and the pilot’s actions.

All of the recorders were taken to Washington, D.C. for analysis.

Lindberg said finding the cause of the crash will take time. How much time depends on the course of the investigation, but a ballpark figure is 12 to 18 months.

“The reason that those take so long is that there’s a lot of information to process,” he said. “There’s a lot that goes into an accident like this.”

• Contact reporter James Brooks at or 523-2258.

More in Home2

Rosemary focaccia bread ready to serve. (By Patty Schied)
Cooking for pleasure: Rosemary focaccia bread

When I am lucky enough eat at good Italian restaurants in Seattle… Continue reading

Hydrologist Heather Best rides her fat bike in the White Mountains National Recreation Area north of Fairbanks. (Photo by Ned Rozell)
Alaska Science Forum: Wet overflow a winter hazard in Alaska

While following a snowmachine trail recently, my dog and I came to… Continue reading

Former President Donald Trump speaks to a capacity crowd at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage on July 9, 2022. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: A primary election of ill-informed voters

On Tuesday, Republicans across the state will help anoint Donald Trump as… Continue reading

(Juneau Empire File)
Community calendar of upcoming events

This is a calendar updated daily of upcoming local events during the… Continue reading

As a teenager, shooting hoops was a major stress reliever for the author. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Lund)
I went to the woods: The reward of risk

One of the easiest things for athletes, coaches, former athletes, former coaches… Continue reading

Donna Leigh is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Courtesy photo)
Living and growing: A word for your year

I recently read an article by Emily Linder who wrote an article… Continue reading

HEX Cook Inlet, LLC and Subsidiaries presents a check to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Administration in October of 2023. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Administration)
My Turn: The Legislature should rein in AIDEA

This story has been updated to correct the photo caption, which originally… Continue reading

Palestinians sell goods next to buildings destroyed by an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. An estimated 1.5 million Palestinians displaced by the war took refuge in Rafahor, which is likely Israel’s next focus in its war against Hamas. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)
My Turn: Palestinian residents are helpless victims in attacks made by leaders

In 1948 the United Nations gave the country of Palestine to European… Continue reading

The Juneau School District administrative office, which would be closed and turned over to Juneau’s municipal government under a pending consolidation plan. (City and Borough of Juneau photo)
Opinion: Juneau School District edges closer to balanced budget, but what’s next?

After a marathon public hearing last week, the Juneau School District (JSD)… Continue reading

Most Read