Only minor injuries in plane mishap near Galena

Zaz Hollander

Four people walked away with only a few bumps and bruises among them after a Fairbanks veterinarian piloting a Cessna 182 made an emergency landing in swampy ground near Galena on Sunday, authorities said.

Pilot Terry Wighs, 63, of Fairbanks said he was flying three other men to Fairbanks and was en route to Galena for fuel when "the engine started sputtering and quit," Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Beth Ipsen said in an email. "The plane made a hard landing, then flipped over in water and was partially submerged."

Wighs and his three passengers got out of the plane, made a fire to dry out and waited for rescue, troopers said.

The passengers were identified as Brian Madros, 20, of Kaltag; Fred Huntington Jr., 27, of Kaltag; and Nathan Elswick, 32, of Anvik. They were headed to a hazardous materials training session in Fairbanks this week.

Two of the men in the plane suffered minor injuries described as bumps and bruises, according to Clint Johnson, Alaska region chief for the National Transportation Safety Board. Two were uninjured.

The plane went down about 25 miles southwest of Galena.

Wighs told Johnson that he was flying at a level cruise altitude of 1,500 feet when the engine quit and he had to make a forced "deadstick" landing without power.

"He selected the banks of the lake as an emergency touchdown spot," Johnson said.

Wighs left Fairbanks early Sunday morning, authorities say. He picked up Elswick in Anvik, then the other two in Kaltag, before heading for Galena. All three communities lie along the Yukon River several hundred miles west of Fairbanks.

A search began after the plane's emergency beacon activated early Sunday afternoon. The 11th Air Force Rescue Coordination Center at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson called troopers in Galena at 2:15 p.m. Sunday but no aircraft were available there and Fairbanks was deemed too far away to respond.

Instead, a plane with the Civil Air Patrol in Galena flew to the coordinates broadcast by the emergency beacon, Ipsen said.

The pilot spotted the overturned Cessna and the four men, walking around and indicating they were OK, she said. But the pilot couldn't land because the plane didn't have floats.

Two pilots from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service out of Galena flew Super Cubs with floats and landed on a nearby pond. One pilot used his personal plane.

The four men got to Galena by 8:45 p.m. Sunday. They all refused treatment, troopers said.

The Cessna is registered to Iksgiza Air Service LLC in Fairbanks. No one answered the phone at the company's offices Monday afternoon.

Reached by phone Monday morning, Wighs, who works as a veterinarian in Fairbanks, asked to talk later in the day but another call wasn't returned. A federal pilot registration database indicates that he holds a commercial single-engine certificate as well as an instrument rating.

Reach Zaz Hollander at or 257-4317.