It typically takes several years for the National Transportation Safety Board to make a final determination on what caused an aviation accident. Along the way, the agency often releases preliminary reports and other information it gleans, just as you would expect from a federal agency seeking transparency.
Recently, the NTSB released a new batch of data on the June 25, 2015 plane crash in Southeast Alaska that killed the pilot and eight cruise ship passengers who were on a shore excursion. Although the agency still hasn't made its determination of what caused the accident, the information it released this week paints a picture of a hard-working, dedicated pilot who just may have been flying too much on the day in question.
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According to the NTSB's new information, the 64-year-old pilot was considered by many peers as a mentor. As we knew from the preliminary report released just after the crash, the plane had been returning from a Holland America "flightseeing" trip to Rudyerd Bay in Misty Fjords. Weather was marginal. The plan made a CFIT, or "controlled flight into terrain" about 20 miles northeast of Ketchikan at about 12:15 p.m. Tragically, no one on board survived.
The head of the company flying the plane spoke highly of the pilot's responsibility and willingness to put safety first. According to investigators, on an especially tricky weather day, the pilot came to his boss and said, "Boss, I'm sorry. It was raining and I didn't feel comfortable." The boss responded, "You never have to say sorry to me for coming back. When you come back I will pat you on the back every time.
Others had less rosy accounts. One former colleague spoke of the pilot's having ignored downdraft warnings, on at least one occasion allowing his plane's floats to strike trees.
On the day of the crash, another tour operator had canceled its excursions due to weather, although other pilots with his own company did not. The weather did urge them to return via the overland "short route" rather than the slightly longer one over Rudyerd Bay. Even though this involved heavy terrain, the "inhibit" switch had been pushed on the terrain avoidance warning system.
Perhaps most significant, the NTSB has learned that the man was on his third flightseeeing trip of the day when the crash occurred.
Whenever a plane crash occurs, it's important to get a clear, definitive picture of what happened. It's also important to hold the responsible parties accountable for the harm their negligence causes.