Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 3:52 PM on Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Initial crash report released

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer

Interviews with the pilot and one passenger of the Cessna 206 that crashed on Beluga Lake July 10, killing former Alaska legislator Cheryll Boren Heinze, 65, were the basis of the National Safety Transportation Board's preliminary report released Tuesday.

In an on-scene interview with the NTSB investigator-in-charge, Brice Banning, the day following the crash, pilot Evan "Joe" Griffith, 71, said his approach to Beluga Lake shortly after 10 p.m. was normal, but the air was turbulent during the descent.

Griffith estimated wind conditions on Beluga Lake at the time were from the southeast at 10 knots, with gusts peaking between 12-14 knots. Griffith said he was landing to the south and had just touched down when a gust of wind lifted the left wing and the right wing struck the water.

"The airplane nosed over abruptly, and the cabin immediately filled with cold lake water," Banning said in his report, adding, "The pilot stated there were no pre-accident anomalies with the airplane."

The passenger sitting in the airplane's second row seat on the right side of the airplane also was interviewed by NTSB the day following the crash. He reported that he and three other occupants struggled to escape the sinking wreckage through an aft, right-side door. However, the airplane's flaps were in the down position and blocked the upper portion of the door, making it difficult to get the door open.

"He said that eventually he was able to force the door open slightly, and then he and the other three occupants were able to escape the submerged airplane through a 10- to 12-inch gap in the doorway," Banning said.

After the four occupants exited the airplane, they realized one passenger, Heinze, was still within the submerged wreckage. They attempted to reenter the airplane's cabin to search for her. The passenger being interviewed said while sitting on the submerged airplane's inverted fuselage, he was able to force the door open with his feet and legs.

Rescuers freed the unconscious and unresponsive Heinze, who was still secured by a seatbelt to her third row, left side seat.

Substantial damage was done during the crash to the airplane's wings, fuselage and empennage, or tail section, Banning said.

About 13 minutes prior to the crash, a weather report from the Homer Airport indicated wind from the southeast at 14 knots, gusting to 25 knots; visibility of 10 miles; clouds were broken; and the air temperature was 53 degrees.w

At the time of the accident, a pilot-rated witness reported strong and gusty winds out of the northeast estimated at 20-25 knots.

Griffith, who is the general manager of Matanuska Electric Association, and passengers Tony Zellers, 49; Eddie Taunton, 52; and Tony Izzo, 51, sustained minor injuries. Heinze, who was MEA's director of human resources and public affairs, was pronounced deceased at South Peninsula Hospital several hours after the crash occurred.

According to the report, the flight originated at the Sixmile Lake Seaplane Base in Anchorage, had make a planned dinner stop in Kenai and was continuing to the day's final destination in Homer.

The wreckage of the Cessna arrived in Anchorage on Tuesday morning, where it will be examined by Banning, as well as representatives from Cessna; Continental Motors, manufacturer of the engine; and survival factor investigators "to determine better what happened as far as the sequence of events," said Johnson.

"As the name implies, a preliminary report is just that, the who, what, when and where," said Clint Johnson, NTSB spokesperson. "In probably six or seven months there'll be factual, final and probable cause reports."

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.