A small plane flown by Alaska Dispatch News' owner and publisher struck trees then plunged into the waters of Halibut Cove near a tour boat after an "aborted landing" Sunday evening, according to investigators.
A preliminary National Transportation Safety Board report on the crash of Alice Rogoff's Cessna 206 floatplane was released Friday. Nobody was hurt during the incident. Rogoff escaped the aircraft unharmed.
According to the report, Rogoff took off from Homer Airport at about 5:42 p.m. Sunday for an 11-mile solo flight across Kachemak Bay to Halibut Cove. An attorney for Rogoff said she was headed there to help celebrate the 91st birthday of Clem Tillion, a former Alaska lawmaker.
The NTSB's account of the 5:53 p.m. crash was compiled from phone interviews with witnesses. Investigators also received numerous photos along with the interview statements.
Citing witnesses, the report said the Cessna "briefly touched down in the calm, glassy waters of Halibut Cove" before it again became airborne. Witnesses consistently reported the plane began "a steep climb to the west," then veered to the left in a nose-high attitude.
"As the airplane continued climbing in a south-southwest direction, it subsequently struck a large stand of trees on the southern shoreline of Halibut Cove," investigators wrote. "The witnesses said that during the collision sequence, the airplane's left float was severed, and the airplane immediately descended, nose first, into the waters of Halibut Cove."
The plane's impact point was about 100 feet from a commercial tour vessel in Halibut Cove at the time, according to the report. Rogoff received assistance "moments" after she climbed out of the crashed plane.
A weather report from Homer Airport at the time of the crash listed winds from the west at 9 knots gusting to 14 knots, with 10 statute miles of visibility and broken clouds at 2,600 feet.
Clint Johnson, NTSB Alaska chief, said Friday a fishing vessel in the area as well as the tour boat, the Danny J, were among the first responders to the crash site.
"It's like a landing craft," Johnson said, referring to the Danny J. "My understanding is that there was roughly 30 people on board."
Brent Cole, one of Rogoff's attorneys, said Friday he hadn't been informed her Cessna had experienced any mechanical problems during Sunday's flight. Johnson said witnesses also didn't report signs of a problem with the aircraft prior to the crash.
Attorneys for Rogoff had said in a statement that "she will be working with authorities to determine what happened."
Johnson said Rogoff's attorneys had declined an NTSB request to interview her. He said that as the plane's pilot she isn't required to speak with investigators but must provide a written statement on the crash within 10 days.
"We've asked and we were told, 'Not at this time,'" Johnson said. "We respect that, and at this time we're waiting for the written statement."
Cole said he advised Rogoff to provide a statement rather than an interview.
"It's not a refusal by my client; it's me providing legal services," Cole said. "She's following the advice I give all my clients."
The NTSB report that Halibut Cove's surface was "glassy" on the night of the crash indicated a trying set of circumstances in which to set down a floatplane, Cole said.
According to a Federal Aviation Administration pamphlet on seaplane operations, reflections on glassy water can affect a pilot's depth perception during landings. The pamphlet warns pilots that in the presence of such reflections, "your sense of height above the water will be compromised to some degree."
"She was landing in what most experienced seaplane pilots would say are very difficult landing (conditions)," Cole said. "After reviewing the evidence, everyone is grateful that she was able to act so quickly and avoid any injuries — not only to herself, but to anyone else."
Johnson said the Cessna's wreckage was recovered on Monday and flown to Homer as a helicopter sling load. The plane was then taken to a Wasilla salvage yard by truck, where it awaits inspection by investigators.
Friday's report begins a sequence of three reports, which the NTSB files on all plane crashes it investigates. A factual report and a final report indicating the crash's probable cause will follow in the coming months.