Pilot walks away from crash on Mat-Su road

zhollander@adn.comSeptember 30, 2013 

WASILLA -- A 42-year-old Wasilla pilot walked away from a crash in the middle of Seward-Meridian Parkway Monday morning.

Pilot Jeff Burwell took off from his home about a quarter-mile from the spot. He was headed for a weeklong hunting trip in King Salmon, according to Alaska State Troopers and Burwell's wife.

But the Super Cub PA-18 never got high enough in the frosty morning air to clear the ground.

Instead, as Carol Burwell watched, saying "No, no, no," the plane's left wing clipped a light post in the parking lot of a nearby Image Audio store and dropped. It happened around 8:30 a.m.

It narrowly missed overhead power lines, bounced once or twice, then bumped over a curb and came to a stop in the road, Burwell said as she watched her husband offload fuel to help stem a small leak around 9 a.m. Monday. The plane's fat tundra tires left twin tracks on the grass between the parking lot and the road.

Burwell cut the engine when the wing hit the pole. He glided in as much as possible, hitting the ground at a slow speed.

The Super Cub's landing gear buckled. The light sheared off the tip of the right wing and left it at a 45-degree angle. The propeller had bent when the plane hit the ground.

"This is mutilated," Carol Burwell said in amazement as she eyed the plane. "He came out totally unscathed."

The Super Cub ended up facing Wasilla on Seward Meridian near Capstone Medical Clinic, between Bogard Road and the Palmer-Wasilla Highway and not far from Cottonwood Creek Elementary School. The road was busy with morning commuters; Alaska State Troopers directed traffic in a detour behind Capstone and around the plane. Several Mat-Su Central Fire Department units responded to monitor the fuel leak.

Approximately 10 gallons of fuel spilled, troopers said. The $80,000 plane was reported to be a total loss.

As soon as he landed and checked everything out, Burwell got out of the plane and ran home to kiss his two children, ages 7 and 10, and let them know everything was OK, his wife said. They both went to school Monday at Cottonwood Creek, where Carol Burwell works and planned to spend the afternoon.

Burwell was flying to the Kenai Peninsula to meet his father for a bear-hunting trip. He's a commercial fisherman and hunting guide who stays at home with his kids in the off-season.

By 9:30 a.m. or so, Burwell himself had taken the controls of a borrowed Genie forklift and hoisted his Super Cub for a tow to the couple's home off North Meridian Place.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigator talked with Burwell by phone gathering details about the accident, according to Clint Johnson, the agency's Alaska region chief. The Federal Aviation Administration was also involved.

Carol Burwell said her husband inspected the plane after the incident and found frost on the wings.

Generally, frost "spoils" the airflow over an aircraft wing and interferes with lift, Johnson said from Anchorage. Frost-related accidents are "very common this time of year," he said. Wing covers can help, as can keeping a plane warm or spraying it with de-icer, but not all those options work for all pilots or all planes.

Burwell parked the Super Cub in the sun Monday morning before taking off, his wife said. He'd put off the trip for a couple days due to bad weather on the Kenai.

She said a quick prayer before the plane took off.


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