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One pilot feared dead after planes collide

Casey Grove

Two planes flying from separate Southwest Alaska villages struck each other Friday afternoon in the air near Nightmute, according to the National Transportation Safety Board and Alaska State Troopers. A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration says one pilot landed on the tundra and the other plane crashed and burned.

One of the pilots -- 24-year-old Scott Veal of Kenai -- is believed to have been killed in the crash, troopers said. His body was not recovered from the wreckage, but "there were no signs of life," said troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters.

Kristen Sprague, 26, piloted the other plane safely to the ground, Peters said. Sprague showed no apparent signs of injury, but rescuers took her to a Bethel hospital as a precaution, Peters said.

Investigators said the two small, commercial planes carried only one pilot each and no passengers. The incident was reported to troopers as a midair collision six miles north of Nightmute about 4 p.m., Peters said. Troopers and medics responded in a helicopter from Bethel, about 100 miles east of the Nelson Island village, she said.

One plane is a Cessna 207 operated by rural freight carrier Ryan Air, said the company's president, Wilfred Ryan. The Ryan Air pilot -- the only person onboard -- landed, got out and was talking to other pilots flying over the area, Ryan said. Peters later identified that pilot as Sprague, a resident of Idaho, and said Sprague made an emergency landing in the badly damaged plane about a mile away.

The other plane -- a Cessna 208 Caravan operated by air taxi and cargo operator Grant Aviation -- was reportedly on the ground in flames after the collision, NTSB investigator Clint Johnson said. Grant Aviation reported the Caravan's pilot -- later identified by troopers as Veal -- was also alone on the plane, Johnson said.

The Ryan Air plane took off from Tununak headed to Bethel, Johnson said. The Grant Aviation plane departed from Toksook Bay, also flying toward Bethel, the investigator said.

Another Ryan Air pilot reported the incident to the company, which immediately notified federal and state authorities, Ryan said.

The National Weather Service reported overcast skies with cloud ceilings about 1,000 feet and no fog or rain in the area the time of the collision.

The cause of the collision remained unknown late Friday, according to troopers and the NTSB.

Johnson said he would be heading to the crash site early Saturday to investigate further.

The incident north of Nightmute appears to be the third midair collision in Alaska skies this summer.


By CASEY GROVE
casey.grove@adn.com