Three people were hospitalized when a plane crashed and flipped Tuesday afternoon on the Kuskokwim River ice near the village of Upper Kalskag, Alaska State Troopers reported.
The four-seater Cessna 172, owned and operated by the Kuspuk School District, had just taken off from the airport at Upper Kalskag and was headed to Aniak around 4:30 p.m., the troopers said in a written report. Weather conditions reportedly had "significantly deteriorated" just before departure, the troopers said.
"It looks like the weather was, if not deteriorating, was low, with some snow and fog in the area," said Chris Shavers, an air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board in Anchorage. "Bands of bad weather" were reported in the area throughout the day, he said.
The plane was trying to fly along the river, the troopers said, when it crashed on the ice and flipped.
"All we know really is just after taking off from Kalskag, the airplane impacted on the river there. Just about a mile to the east of the end of the runway," Shavers said.
Kalskag school principal Greg Wohlman said he announced the accident over the VHF radio.
"Any and all available snowmachines left immediately from the village," he said.
"Kalskag residents responded very, very quickly to the emergency need of our people like they always do. They're the best at it," Wohlman said.
The pilot, Steve Bruckner, 44, of Aniak, and two passengers, Brian Foley, 52, of Aniak, and Roy Guernsey, 55, of Anchorage were airlifted to hospitals and are all listed in stable condition, troopers said.
Guernsey was taken to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage and the other two were taken to the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. hospital in Bethel, the troopers said.
Shavers, the NTSB investigator, planned to talk to Guernsey on Wednesday at Providence and hoped to speak with the pilot later in the day, he said. "I just heard that he's been released from the clinic there."
An FAA inspector was attempting to travel to the Lower Kuskokwim on Wednesday and might travel to the area of the crash if weather allows, he said.
Wohlman, the principal, declined to talk about details of the crash, including the nature of the injuries to the pilot and passengers. "We're still in a situation of not reporting much until families are comfortable," he said.
Shavers said the plane is based in Aniak and had flown to Kalskag to pick up the two passengers. It was on the ground just five or 10 minutes before taking off again, he said.
Wohlman said Guernsey works on contract to service copy machines in district villages while Foley works in the district technology department.