NTSB: Missing pilot was drunk before he and plane vanished

casey.grove@adn.comJanuary 23, 2013 

A pilot who disappeared in October was last seen drunk at a Soldotna airport before he is thought to have flown his plane, crashed into Cook Inlet and died, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Friends, family and fellow pilots spent weeks searching for Palmer resident Brendan Mattingley, 27, after he and his red, white and green Piper PA-18 Super Cub vanished.

An NTSB preliminary report revealed archived radar data that showed Mattingley's plane taking off in the early morning hours of Oct. 13 and flying in a seemingly erratic pattern and descending in the middle of Cook Inlet. Now, the NTSB's factual report, released Wednesday, says Mattingley was bar-hopping in Soldotna the night before he went missing, and that a cabbie thought Mattingley seemed drunk when he dropped the pilot off at the airport, where Mattingley said he would sleep in his plane.

Nobody has reported seeing Mattingley or his plane since. According to the NTSB factual report, here is what investigators think happened:

An Alaska State Trooper looking for the missing man learned that Mattingley and another pilot flew to Soldotna from Palmer on Oct. 12 and planned to return the next day. The other pilot, Mattingley's longtime friend, told the trooper that they watched a hockey game and went out drinking at a few bars with a group of friends.

A woman at one bar, Hooligans, said Mattingley seemed "very intoxicated" and that bartenders stopped serving him sometime after 11 p.m., causing Mattingley to get angry. Mattingley started flirting with her and a friend, and the women tried their best to ignore him, she told an NTSB investigator.

"Mr. Mattingley then began dancing on the dance floor, and he started 'body slamming' other individuals, which caused a brief disturbance with other customers," the report says. "(The woman) said that Mr. Mattingley then started 'picking a fight' with a male friend of hers, and shortly thereafter, two men quickly escorted him outside."

A security guard told investigators he asked Mattingley to leave sometime after midnight. The security guard said Mattingley was "very drunk" and "needed to go," the report says.

The friend said he put Mattingley in a taxi cab and told the driver to take him to a hotel. At the hotel, Mattingley was upset and refused to get out of the cab. He insisted that the driver take him back to the bar, the driver told investigators. Just before they got back to the bar, Mattingley said he'd changed his mind and wanted to go to the airport.

"After the taxi cab driver reluctantly agreed to take him to the airport, and when he asked the man about his intentions, the pilot reported that was going to sleep in the airplane, something he had done many times before," the report says.

While they drove to the airport, Mattingley said, "Don't tell anyone where I am," the driver told investigators.

The driver asked why.

"You don't want to know," Mattingley said, according to the report.

Air Force radar data showed that a little after 1:30 a.m. Oct. 13, a plane believed to be Mattingley's took off from the airport. The plane flew southeast, then turned west and turned again, to the northeast. It made "a series of erratic turns, along with several changes in speed, heading and altitude" before turning to the northwest, flying over Cook Inlet, the NTSB report says. The plane's last-known position was recorded at about 2:45 a.m. over the middle of the inlet about 30 miles north of Soldotna.

"The (pilot), who was also the airplane owner, is presumed to have received fatal injuries, and the airplane is presumed to have been destroyed," the report says.

Reach Casey Grove at casey.grove@adn.com or 257-4589.

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