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Pilot unhurt in takeoff crash near Susitna Glacier

Zaz Hollander

A 70-year-old pilot and Denali Highway lodge owner escaped unhurt after his Super Cub crashed during takeoff near the Susitna River on Wednesday.

David "Butch" Gratias was alone in his plane when he crashed in the area of the Susitna Glacier on Wednesday morning, Gratias and Alaska State Troopers said. He called his wife on a satellite phone to tell her about the crash and that he was OK, troopers spokeswoman Beth Ipsen said. Troopers were notified at 11 a.m.

Weather held a troopers helicopter in Fairbanks, so the Rescue Coordination Center sent a military helicopter to pick up Gratias and fly him to the Denali Highway, Ipsen said. From there, an Alaska Wildlife Trooper drove him home.

Gratias said he was ferrying supplies to some hikers before he took off. He thought a wind shift caused the crash but he's not sure exactly what happened. The plane sustained significant damage to a wing and the fuselage, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

An NTSB investigator said a wing hit some brush at the end of the strip and the plane "groundlooped" -- a wing hit the ground and the plane rotated around it -- before coming to a stop.

Investigator Cathy Gagne said Gratias told her that winds he observed as variable before takeoff kept "getting more and more squirrelly" afterwards. The pilot knows the Susitna country well, Gagne said. "He's been flying in and out of there a lot over the years."

Gratias said he planned to fly back to his Super Cub on Friday to start the process of getting it out of the remote location.

Gratias runs Gracious House Lodge & Flying Service, located at mile 82 on the Denali Highway about 50 miles from the Denali National Park and Preserve entrance. He opened the lodge in the late 1950s.

Reach Zaz Hollander at zhollander@adn.com or 257-4317.


By ZAZ HOLLANDER
zhollander@adn.com