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Pilot believed dead in small-plane crash near Dillingham

Lisa Demer

A small plane crashed on Tikchik Lake on Sunday and a hunting guide who saw it flip and sink told troopers no one got out, Alaska State Troopers report.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigator says the pilot was the sole person on board and was killed in the crash.

The guide and a hunter were waiting for the plane, owned and operated by Fresh Water Adventures, to pick them up, said Larry Lewis, an NTSB investigator. The air taxi service is owned by the Ball family and based in Dillingham, according to the company website. A message left at the air taxi service was not returned.

Troopers haven't identified the pilot or described the plane. KDLG radio in Dillingham said family friends identified the pilot as Newt Ball, 71.

The plane that crashed was a Grumman Widgeon built in 1944. It's an amphibious, high-winged twin engine plane that, based on initial reports, may have had a hard landing on glassy water, Lewis said.

"We just have some basic observations by some witnesses. And it looks like he may just have landed hard and maybe caught a wing but we're not sure yet," the investigator said.

The guide saw the plane trying to land on the lake, then flip and begin to sink, troopers said. The guide didn't see anyone escape the aircraft. He also watched the area after the crash and didn't see anyone in the water, troopers said.

Neither troopers nor the NTSB immediately knew how far the plane was from shore and the hunter and guide, or how deep the water was. Troopers may use divers to recover it.

The lake is in Wood-Tikchik State Park about 63 miles north of Dillingham.

The hunting guide reported to troopers around 5:15 p.m. on Sunday that the plane had crashed.

Troopers say they have preliminary information regarding the aircraft and pilot but won't release it until a trooper can get to the scene and confirm what they were told.

The pilot was experienced, Lewis said. He had traveled on the Grumman, with the pilot, in 2010 to investigate the plane crash that killed former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens.

The witnesses reported glassy water on Tikchik Lake at the time of the crash, Lewis said.

"And glassy water landings are -- it seems odd -- but glassy water landings are some of the most difficult landings you can do in an amphibious airplane," Lewis said. "It presents some anomalies as far as depth perception goes." Special techniques are needed, he said.

Fog and darkness prevented troopers from getting to lake on Sunday and but the fog cleared by Monday afternoon, trooper spokeswoman Beth Ipsen said.

A trooper based in Dillingman was headed to the scene, she said. Troopers planned to meet with the guide to get a more precise location on the lake and determine whether the plane could be retrieved, Lewis said. He was awaiting word on whether to go out to Dillingham.


Reach Lisa Demer at or 257-4390.


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