Wildfires are responsible for the delay in the National Transportation Safety Board's recovery efforts of the sightseeing plane that crashed and killed nine people Thursday near Ketchikan, an NTSB official said Tuesday.
The heavy-lift Bell 214B helicopter needed to retrieve the wrecked de Havilland Otter is at work fighting fires elsewhere in the state. It likely won't be available for several weeks, Clint Johnson, the NTSB's Alaska chief, said in a phone interview.
NTSB investigators were at the scene of the crash Tuesday and were removing what Johnson described as "perishable" equipment from the aircraft that could be damaged by weather. The bodies of the plane's pilot, Bryan Krill, and its eight passengers were recovered from the rugged hillside crash site Friday.
The wreckage remaining at the scene after Tuesday, in Misty Fjords National Monument, is "not going to hurt sitting there," Johnson said.
"It's just going to slow things down," he added.
Johnson said the NTSB's investigators are planning to leave Ketchikan later this week. They'll return when the helicopter is available.
Investigators need the heavy-lift Bell so they can extricate the wreckage of the 10-passenger Otter without cutting it into pieces. It will be chartered from Temsco Helicopters Inc. in Ketchikan.
But there's only one Bell 214B in the state, said Joe Hicks, Temsco's director of operations. It's currently fighting wildfires north of Fairbanks, dropping water and ferrying firefighters, he said.
"We've got to protect property and life up north, so that's what we're sticking with," Hicks said in a phone interview from Ketchikan. "It's a long flight from up there back down here to Southeast … Once she comes home, we'll get it out of there."
It's not entirely clear when the Bell will be back in Ketchikan, Hicks said, citing the "strange" behavior of wildfires. But he said he expected the helicopter to be firefighting for at least two to three more weeks.
Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration for the first time released full details of the flying experience of Krill, the Otter's 64-year-old pilot.
Records showed that the FAA issued Krill his first certification in 1992 — a private-pilot certification to operate a single-engine plane. Two years later, Krill added a rating that allowed him to operate a plane in instrument conditions — essentially, in weather that forces pilots to navigate based on instruments rather than by sight.
In 1995, Krill got his commercial pilot's certification for single-engine planes, and in 1998 added a credential that allowed him to fly floatplanes.
Before Tuesday, the only information available from the FAA about Krill's experience came from a publicly accessible database that showed his commercial pilots' certificates as being issued in 2013.
Krill started flying for Promech Air, which operated the flight that crashed Thursday, this summer. He worked for Talkeetna Air Taxi in the summer of 2014, and for Bettles Air Service for three years before that, flying in the Brooks Range in the northern part of the state, officials from both companies have said.