Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 2:13 PM on Wednesday, September 5, 2012

NTSB investigates Friday's fatal McKeon Flats crash



Photo provided

The tail and wing of the Bellanca plane that crashed lies in the Wosnesenski River.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators are completing their examination into a fatal plane crash on the McKeon Flats near China Poot and Neptune Bay last Friday that killed a Girdwood pilot.

George Vonderheide, 66, died when his Bellanca 7GCBC single-engine floatplane hit and severed a power line crossing the Wosnesenski River. He was the only person in the two-seat plane.

The line is 30 to 200 feet high as it crosses the river and is marked, said Homer Electric Spokesperson Joe Gallagher.

The plane crash caused power to go out to about 20 customers between big Tutka Bay and McKeon Flats about 3 p.m. Aug. 31. An HEA crew that flew to the area to discover the cause of the outage found the crash and reported it at 3:30 p.m., said Alaska State Troopers spokesperson Beth Ipsen.

The crew picked up an ELT, or emergency locator transmitter, signal from the downed plane.

The Bellanca landed in shallow water along the river valley. The floats and wings came loose in the crash. Vonderheide was flying gear to Wosnesenski Lake for a private party intending to raft the Wosnesenski River, but crashed as he flew up the river to the lake.

Kachemak Bay and Homer had fog, rain and low cloud cover on Friday, with a low ceiling. The weather conditions at the crash site are still under investigation, said NTSB investigator Larry Lewis.

The investigation also will look at the engine and airplane performance and other factors to determine the exact cause of the crash. A preliminary report will be released sometime next week, with a final report in about six to nine months.

Lewis said the McKeon Flats crash was one of seven Alaska crashes that happened since Thursday that has kept him and another investigator busy. It was the only fatal crash over the Labor Day weekend.

With hunting season and the end of the summer, pilots sometimes attempt to fly in bad conditions.

"This time of year, especially with the weather turning like it is, if you have any misgivings at all, don't go," Lewis said. "Don't push it too far."

It's unclear if Vonderheide's plane had a 406 ELT, the type of emergency beacon whose signal can be picked up by satellite, Lewis said. Older ELTs can broadcast a signal, but it can't be picked up by satellite and can only be detected if someone is monitoring the frequency and is in the area.

The Federal Aviation Administration does not require pilots to have a 406 ELT, Lewis said. Without one, though, "their chances of being found are greatly diminished."

Vonderheide had not filed a flight plan, but other people were aware of his intended route. Power was restored to the McKeon Flats area by about 8:30 p.m. last Saturday.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.