Preliminary report for fatal Admiralty plane crash indicates weather issues

The pilot of the plane that crashed on southern Admiralty Island last Friday had said he was going to take an alternate route due to weather concerns, according to a preliminary accident report by the National Transportation Safety Board released Thursday.

An amphibious float-equipped Cessna 206 airplane, operated by Sunrise Aviation out of Wrangell, departed Wrangell around 8:10 a.m. on April 8 and went down on its way to Angoon around 9:12 a.m., killing three and leaving one in critical condition.

Pilot David Galla, 60, and passengers Greg Scheff, 61, and Thomas Siekawitch, 57 – all of Wrangell – died. Twenty-one-year-old Morgan Enright of Ketchikan survived, and as of noon Thursday, was still in critical condition at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center, a hospital spokeswoman said.

During an interview with NTSB investigator Shaun Williams on April 12, Sunrise Aviation’s director of operations Tyler Robinson said that “while flying another company airplane, he spoke with (Galla) on a company radio frequency. (Galla) commented to (Robinson) that while en route to Angoon, he was unable to make it through Pybus Bay due to low clouds and reduced visibility, and that he was going to try an alternate route that had a lower terrain elevation,” the report stated.

About 15 to 20 minutes after talking with Galla, Robinson landed in Wrangell and noticed on a satellite tracking device that the Cessna’s signal was stationary in an area of mountainous terrain.

“(Robinson) then called personnel at the Angoon airport and was told the flight had not arrived, and attempts to contact (Galla) on his cell phone and aircraft radio were unsuccessful,” the report stated.

Robinson then received a phone call from the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center notifying him that the Cessna’s emergency locator transmitter signal was going off.

The airplane, registered N50159 with the Federal Aviation Administration, sustained substantial damage after impacting snow-covered, rising terrain about 17 miles southeast of the Angoon, according to the report.

“The wreckage was in an open area of snow-covered rising terrain, at an elevation of about 2,240 feet mean sea level. The impact area was sloped about 27 degrees. The airplane impacted the snow in a near vertical attitude and sustained substantial damage to the fuselage and wings,” the report stated.

The area between Wrangell and Angoon consists of remote inland fjords, coastal waterways and steep mountainous terrain.

About 10:25 a.m. on the day of the crash, the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Sitka launched an MH-60 helicopter to search for the airplane. The airplane’s wreckage was located by a helicopter operated by Temsco Helicopters around 10:54.

The crew of a U.S. Coast Guard MH-60 helicopter located the airplane’s wreckage shortly after but, due to hazardous weather and terrain conditions, was unable to lower a rescuer to the site, and the crew retuned to Sitka to pick up rescue personnel from Sitka Mountain Rescue.

About 1:55 p.m., “the MH-60 helicopter returned to the accident site and landed on an adjacent ridgeline, and members of Sitka Mountain Rescue and the Coast Guard hiked to the accident site. Once on scene, they discovered that three of the airplane’s occupants died at the scene, and one had survived the crash. The sole survivor was hoisted aboard the Coast Guard MH-60 helicopter, and then transported to Juneau,” the report stated.

The NTSB’s investigator-in-charge, along with another NTSB aircraft accident investigator and members of Juneau Mountain Rescue, reached the accident site on the morning of April 9.

According to the report, the closest weather reporting facility is Angoon Airport, about 17 miles northwest of the accident site.

At 9:56 a.m., an aviation routine weather report from the Angoon Airport was reporting, “wind calm; sky condition, few clouds at 2,300 feet, broken clouds at 4,200 feet; visibility 10 statute miles; temperature 45 degrees F, dew point 43 degrees F; altimeter, 29.75 inHg.”

A full NTSB report is scheduled to come out in 10 to 12 months.

Enright’s family has been posting updates on her medical condition on the website CaringBridge. On Thursday around noon, an update read, “Morgan has opened her eyes a few times when instructed by the nurse (after her medications are reduced).” The day before, an update said Enright’s brain pressure monitor has been removed.

• Contact reporter Lisa Phu at 523-2246 or lisa.phu@juneauempire.com.

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