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Small planes collide in midair in Lake Clark Pass but land safely

Lisa Demer

Two small planes collided in midair in Lake Clark Pass on Sunday afternoon, but both pilots managed to land their crafts safely in Anchorage, a federal air safety investigator said.

No one was hurt.

"If you have to have something like this, it couldn't have worked out better," said Larry Lewis, National Transportation Safety Board investigator.

Both the NTSB and the Federal Aviation Administration are investigating.

The parallel probes are just beginning. But it appears the planes were headed toward each other in the mountain pass and that neither pilot saw the other plane until seconds before they hit, Lewis said. The NTSB does not release the names of those involved, including pilots, he said.

"You'd be surprised how hard it is to see an airplane coming at you," he said.

One of the planes was a Piper Navajo owned by Lake Clark Air carrying nine people including the pilot, Lewis said. It was operating as an air taxi. The pilot was Daniel Clum, a Lake Clark Air veteran with years of experience flying in Alaska, said Glen Alsworth, chief pilot for Lake Clark.

The other was a Cessna 206 floatplane with four on board. The registered owner of the Cessna is Donald Creamer of Anchorage, and Crystal Branchaud is listed as a co-owner, according to the FAA registration website. Branchaud declined to comment and a message left for Creamer was not immediately returned.

Alsworth said he didn't have much information but had spoken to Clum, who said he never saw the Cessna until it was right over him.

The planes sustained minimal damage but were able to keep flying, Lewis said. One of the Cessna's floats was damaged, as was part of the Piper's vertical tail and rudder.

Visibility was excellent, one of the pilots told the NTSB. The pilots are supposed to be on the lookout for other planes, and avoid them. The investigation will examine what went wrong, Lewis said.

"These two airplanes are flying visual flight rules. It's uncontrolled air space," Lewis said.

The crash happened at mid-afternoon. The Cessna had been headed toward Lake Clark, and the Piper was going to Anchorage from the Port Alsworth area.

After the collision, the Cessna landed at Lake Hood. Its damaged float was leaking, and it had to be towed to the dock, said Mike Fergus, spokesman for the FAA's Northwest Mountain region.

The Piper made it to Merrill Field, its destination, Lewis said.

The Cessna pilot told the NTSB he was flying at about 2,300 feet. The floatplane was slightly above the Piper.

The NTSB hasn't yet pinpointed where in the pass the collision occurred. Lewis estimated it happened roughly 47 miles from Port Alsworth. Lake Clark Pass at its widest spans a mile and narrows to maybe 1/4 mile in spots, the investigator said.

"I've got to look at the airspace, look at the airplanes, and talk to the pilots, see if there's some kind of determination as to whether there's any right-of-way violations," Lewis said.

NTSB focuses on the cause of the crash, while it's up to the FAA to determine any consequences. Lewis said he'll look at whether the planes had their lights on, for instance. The planes would have been traveling faster than 120 mph, he said.

"For two planes to come together in mid-air, especially when they are out, away from an airport and that kind of thing, rarely is it OK," Lewis said.


By LISA DEMER
ldemer@adn.com