Trapper Creek man hit, critically injured by floatplane on Mulchatna River

Zaz Hollander

A 41-year-old Trapper Creek man remained hospitalized in critical condition Friday after he was hit on the head by the float of a plane taking off from the Mulchatna River on Wednesday.

Travis Finkenbinder was moving an 18-foot skiff for his employer, McKinley Capital Management LLC, when the accident occurred, Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Beth Ipsen said Friday. Finkenbinder and another man were being flown around by two de Havilland DHC-2 Beavers owned by the Anchorage investment management company.

McKinley uses a private lodge in the popular fishing area as a base camp and Finkenbinder -- a facilities manager for the company -- was moving the boat from one section of the river to a different spot, according to J.L. McCarey, a senior vice-president for the company.

One of the planes took off near Finkenbinder's skiff as both craft headed in the same direction but a down draft apparently caused it to lose altitude, authorities say.

"He lost sight of him during his initial climb, the airplane settled a little bit, and that's when one of the floats struck the person in the head," said Clint Johnson, Alaska region chief for the National Transportation Safety Board.

Pilot Benjamin Hancock, 34, of Anchorage realized he hit something and landed, only to see the skiff running in circles on the water, Ipsen said. It was "more than likely" Finkenbinder was unconscious at the time. Hancock used one of the plane's floats to stop the skiff, causing some damage to the float, she said.

Meanwhile, the other pilot landed as well and the two provided medical aid to the injured man, she said. They used the undamaged Beaver to fly Finkenbinder to King Salmon for more treatment; from there, he was flown to Providence Alaska Medical Center in what troopers described as "critical but stable" condition.

A Providence spokeswoman said Finkenbinder was still in critical condition as of Friday afternoon.

The accident occurred mid-afternoon Wednesday, according to Johnson. NTSB investigators spoke only very briefly with the pilot immediately after the accident and plan to talk with him again, he said. "He was pretty upset at the time."

The incident occurred on the Mulchatna near the Stuyahok River. The Mulchatna is a popular floatfishing destination that flows into the Nushagak River about 60 miles northeast of Dillingham.

McKinley Capital was founded by Bob Gillam, an Anchorage financier and vocal opponent of the Pebble Mine, proposed for a tributary of the Mulchatna.

Finkenbinder has worked for the company for 10 years, McCarey said. He described him as a talented employee who can fix anything and said he is married with two children. He's also an accomplished snowmachiner who participated in the 2009 Iron Dog Race.

McCarey said there was "encouraging news" about the injured man's condition on Friday, "enough to give us all a little hope."

A flightseeing float plane carrying six passengers hit a guide's fishing boat with three people during takeoff on the Naknek River near King Salmon last July, the Alaska Dispatch reported. Two people in the plane and one in the boat were treated for minor injuries at the clinic in King Salmon.

Reach Zaz Hollander at or in Wasilla at (907) 352-6705.