Andy Teuber, a prominent Alaska health CEO as well as a tourism business owner, is presumed dead after he disappeared in a small single-engine helicopter over the Gulf of Alaska on Tuesday.
Teuber, 52, took off from Anchorage’s Merrill Field that afternoon knowing the Anchorage Daily News was working on a story detailing allegations by a former assistant against him that prompted his sudden resignation last week as head of Alaska’s largest tribal health organization.
The Daily News has not been able to establish the specific purpose of Teuber’s flight on Tuesday. An attorney representing him declined to comment when reached by phone.
But the possibility that Teuber’s state of mind factored into the presumed crash of his helicopter is now part of the federal investigation into what happened.
The National Transportation Safety Board on Thursday assigned a human performance investigator to the case, according to Clint Johnson, the agency’s Alaska chief. She will be helping with interviews and reviewing external factors that might have influenced Teuber’s flying ability.
“This one’s a unique case and given the circumstances, we thought it would be best to assign a human performance investigator, at least initially,” Johnson said.
‘50 miles of water’
Teuber, owner of Kodiak Helicopters LLC, was flying a Robinson R66 helicopter the company uses for flightseeing and charter bookings.
His last signal was picked up about 90 minutes after he left Anchorage, roughly two nautical miles southeast of the uninhabited Barren Islands between the Kenai Peninsula and Kodiak, according to the Coast Guard.
The water in the area is about 300 feet deep.
The wind-scoured islands rise from a long uninterrupted stretch of water that brings the potential for wintertime icing or rough seas for any pilot who might run into trouble, experienced Alaska aviators said, describing sometimes turbulent winds and difficult flying conditions in that area.
It’s likely Teuber flew from Anchorage across Cook Inlet, then stayed over land on the Kenai Peninsula for as long as he could before heading for Kodiak across the Gulf of Alaska.
“There’s a couple islands you can hop from, but holy cow it’s like 50 miles of water,” said Mark Barker, an Anchorage helicopter pilot, mechanic and instructor who’s held a license since the early 1980s.
Debris from the helicopter, including a signature yellow float, was spotted in the frigid water Tuesday night. The U.S. Coast Guard called off an air and water search for Teuber on Wednesday.
The Coast Guard took photos of debris glimpsed Tuesday night. As of Thursday afternoon, no wreckage had been recovered.
The National Transportation Safety Board accident investigation will also focus on elements like weather and the airworthiness of the helicopter, Johnson said. Investigators will use wreckage photos if none of the debris can be recovered, and analyze the helicopter’s maintenance records. They will also look at pilot experience, including training and hours in the helicopter.
Teuber held numerous commercial pilot certifications issued in 2015, including single- and multi-engine ratings, according to a Federal Aviation Administration database. He also held an instrument rating for airplanes and helicopters, meaning he was authorized to fly in the dark or bad weather conditions relying on his instrument panel instead of his vision. He was a certificated airframe and power plant mechanic.
Robinson helicopters hit the market in the late 1970s as a relatively low-cost option that became immediately popular with civilian pilots and flight schools, though some safety issues were reported.
The next model, the R44, is now the world’s best-selling civilian helicopter and also more likely to be involved in deadly crashes, a 2018 Los Angeles Times investigation found. The Times reported that piston-powered Robinson R44s were involved in 42 fatal crashes in the U.S. from 2006 to 2016, more than any other civilian helicopter, a claim the company disputed at the time.
Teuber, however, was in a turbine-powered R66 described by Barker — a self-described Robinson supporter with thousands of flight hours, mostly in the R44 — as “ultra, ultra reliable.”
The R66 is lightweight and amply powered, an ideal combination, he said. It’s also a marine model with skids that can be equipped with pop-out floats for a pilot to trigger in case of emergency.
But, Barker said, safely landing at a glide with emergency floats deployed can be tricky on a good day , never mind in the Gulf of Alaska’s notorious winter swells.
“You put down a light little helicopter, it’s like a beachball on floats, you’ve probably got your hands full,” he said.
The National Weather Service’s marine forecast for the area Tuesday called for west winds at 15 knots and 10-foot seas.
Published Tuesday evening, the Daily News story concerning Teuber detailed allegations of harassment and sexual misconduct by his former assistant, Savanah Evans, including accusations he “unrelentingly coerced, forced and required sex” of her.
There were several interactions between the Daily News, Teuber and his lawyer on Monday and Tuesday. Teuber, through his attorney, provided answers to a number of questions on Tuesday afternoon.
Evans initially detailed the allegations in a letter to the ANTHC board, and later went public with her allegations to the Daily News and other news media.
Teuber, who denied any allegations of wrongdoing, said Evans initiated their first encounter and many of the rest.
Teuber and Evans began working together in October 2019. Both resigned from the consortium on Feb. 23.
Teuber was paid a salary of more than $1 million per year to oversee the consortium, which describes itself as the largest tribal health organization in the country, serving more than 170,000 Alaska Native people in communities statewide.
The consortium, along with other tribal health entities, earned national recognition recently for their fast-paced COVID-19 vaccinations in Alaska.
Teuber also served as chief executive of the Kodiak Area Native Association, a regional tribal health provider, and on many influential boards including the Alaska Federation of Natives and the University of Alaska Board of Regents. He resigned both of those roles last week as well.
The National Transportation Safety Board isn’t expected to issue any final reports or probable cause findings on the crash until next year.