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Atigun Pass plane crash that injured 4 occurred during sightseeing tour

Suzanna Caldwell

Officials on Monday identified the four people who were critically injured in a sightseeing flight that crashed near Atigun Pass in northern Alaska Sunday afternoon as a Fairbanks pilot and three Canadian passengers.

A Navion L-17A aircraft crashed about 400 feet from the summit of Atigun Pass at approximately 1:45 p.m. Sunday, according to Clint Johnson, head of the National Transportation Safety Board's Alaska office. The site is close to Mile 243.5 of the Dalton Highway and the trans-Alaska pipeline. Employees of Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. reported the accident and were first on scene.

Pump Station 4, one of few continuously manned pump stations along the pipeline, is located approximately 20 miles north of the crash site. Alyeska Pipeline spokeswoman Michelle Egan said medics and ambulances from multiple pump stations quickly responded to the crash. A helicopter was also dispatched from Pump Station 4.

She said given the remoteness of the work environment, employees are trained to handle many emergency situations, whether they involve pipeline workers or not. She said it’s not unprecedented for workers to respond to vehicle or bicycle accidents along the pipeline corridor.

“A large aircraft accident is not common,” Egan said. “But having a need to respond is common.”

Pump station responders coordinated the rescue of the passengers and then transported them to the Galbraith Lake Airport to be further medevacked. One passenger was flown directly from the crash site to Fairbanks for treatment.

According to the North Slope Borough, pilot Forest Kirst, 57, of Fairbanks, was transported to Anchorage for treatment. His three passengers, Darrell Spencer, 66, Daphne McCann, 57, and Marcene Nason, 65, all from New Brunswick, Canada, were transported to Vancouver, British Columbia for further treatment.

Borough spokesman DJ Fauske said all four appeared to be in stable condition Monday.

The plane, operated by Fairbanks-based Kirst Aviation, had filed a flight plan indicating the group was headed from Fairbanks to Bettles, then from Bettles to Deadhorse and on to Barter Island before heading back to Fairbanks.

Johnson said it appears the accident occurred as the plane headed from Bettles to Deadhorse, though investigators were still working to contact Kirst, who remains hospitalized.

Kirst Aviation operates flight training and sightseeing tours out of Fairbanks according to the company’s website. A man who answered the phone at Kirst Aviation Monday said he was “too busy to talk” and declined to answer any questions.

Johnson could not say what caused the accident Monday, since investigators had not yet spoken with the pilot. Fairbanks-based investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration were en route to the crash site Monday morning.