A fast-moving snow storm swept into the village of Chuathbaluk just before a small commercial plane struck a tall spruce tree near the Kuskokwim River village in November, killing the pilot, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
Longtime Aniak pilot Stephen Hill, co-owner of Inland Aviation, died when the Cessna 207 crashed Nov. 29. Hill, 61, was flying the company plane about 10 miles from Aniak to Chuathbaluk to pick up a passenger.
It was the second fatal crash for the company in less than four months.
According to the NTSB's preliminary report on the most recent crash, released Tuesday, Hill told a woman waiting for his plane in Chuathbaluk that the visibility was too poor about 6 p.m. to leave Aniak. About an hour later, Hill said the weather had improved, so the woman drove to the airport to meet the plane.
The woman told the NTSB that visibility was good at the airport, and the airport's radio-activated runway lights turned on about 20 minutes later, indicating the plane was near. But the woman said a storm soon swept in, and she could not see the end of the runway, according to the NTSB.
A short time later, the runway lights shut off. No one answered when the woman called Inland Aviation. Another villager said they heard what sounded like a plane crash, and the woman called Alaska State Troopers in Aniak to report the overdue plane, the NTSB report says.
Searchers found the wreckage early the next morning in some trees about 3 miles southwest of the village. It first struck a 70-foot spruce tree, and debris was strewn another 180 feet or so, the NTSB said. Hill appeared to have died on impact, troopers said.
Another longtime Inland Aviation pilot and a teacher died in August when their plane crashed in poor weather about 40 miles from McGrath.