NTSB probing plane's weight, balance at time of Soldotna crash

mtheriault@adn.comJuly 10, 2013 

Federal investigators trying to determine what caused an air taxi to crash on takeoff at the Soldotna Municipal Airport on Sunday, killing all 10 people aboard, are studying maintenance records and interviewing friends and family of the pilot to reconstruct the 72 hours leading up to the accident.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators are paying particular attention to the weight and balance of the plane, which was loaded with nine passengers, baggage and some supplies for the planned trip to a remote bear viewing lodge on the Alaska Peninsula, said National Transportation Safety Board member Earl Weener at a press briefing in Anchorage on Wednesday.

Lacking eyewitnesses or video surveillance, the team is hoping the wreckage and records will offer clues as to what brought the plane down. No radio traffic of the moments leading up to the crash was recorded because the small Soldotna airport doesn't have a control tower, said NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson.

The team of seven investigators spent their second full day at the crash site in Soldotna moving the accident wreckage from an area near the runway into a hangar, Weener said. They discovered a large "ground scar" where the engine hit when they moved the plane, he said.

It's not yet known whether the engine was running when the crash happened, said NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson.

"That's something we're working to develop," Knudson said. "There was bending of the propeller that's consistent with the propeller running at the time of the accident."

The engine has been sent to its manufacturer, Honeywell, for analysis, Weener said.

The investigators say they know the pilot himself loaded the plane with nine passengers and their baggage for an overnight at Bear Mountain Lodge. Weener said Rediske was also carrying food and supplies to the lodge, though he said he didn't know how much.

The team is sifting through pilot and maintenance records on the de Havilland DHC-3 turbine engine plane, which Weener said was used regularly by Rediske Air. The company owns five other planes, family and operator spokesman Andrew Harcombe said earlier this week.

Weener also said the flight was operating under FAA "Part 135" rules, which govern all commercial flights and are more stringent than "Part 91" rules for non-commercial generation aviation flight.

The investigators will spend several more days in Soldotna before returning to Washington, D.C., Weener said. Some parts of the airplane wreckage that warrant a closer look may be sent to a lab there.

"We're still really at the beginning of our investigation," he said.

A report that could include the probable cause of the crash is expected within 30 days.


Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at mtheriault@adn.com or 257-4344.



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