2 hurt in Southwest Alaska crash of small plane that iced up, officials say

Two people were injured Monday night when a small plane flying between two Alaska Peninsula villages iced up and crashed, according to Alaska State Troopers and federal investigators.

Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said in an email Tuesday that those on board the plane, a Piper Cherokee 6 operated by Van Air, were 54-year-old pilot Matthew Vandeventer and 53-year-old passenger Gerda Kosbruk.

Vandeventer was taken to Providence Alaska Medical Center, where he was listed in fair condition Tuesday morning. A Providence spokesman said Kosbruk wasn't listed at the Anchorage hospital or at Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center.

Word that the plane crashed between Pilot Point and Port Heiden reached troopers at about 3:30 p.m. Monday, according to an online dispatch.

"Preliminary investigation revealed the flight originated from Dillingham with two persons on board and was en route to Port Heiden," troopers wrote. "The aircraft had landed in Pilot Point due to inclement weather before departing Pilot Point bound again for Port Heiden, when it crashed."

The Rescue Coordination Center in Anchorage was informed, and a Coast Guard helicopter was sent to the area from Air Station Kodiak. In addition, residents of Pilot Point and Port Heiden conducted ground searches.

The Coast Guard helicopter crew found the crash site at about 6:15 p.m., troopers said.


National Weather Service meteorologist Joe Wegman said the region of the crash saw snow showers Monday, including a "mist" of fine powder, reducing visibility at both Port Heiden and Pilot Point.

"In the 2 to 3 p.m. hour (at Port Heiden), it was low as a mile and a quarter, still considered light snow," Wegman said. "At Pilot Point at about 3 o'clock, they were at 1 mile visibility and light snow as well."

Winds at Port Heiden were 20 to 25 mph from the northwest Monday afternoon, Wegman said, but Pilot Point had lighter winds.

National Transportation Safety Board investigator Noreen Price said Tuesday that she had spoken with Vandeventer, who said the plane experienced severe icing soon after taking off from Pilot Point.

"He decided to turn back and head for Pilot Point, and after he turned back he encountered heavy icing on the propeller, the wings, the windshield," Price said. "He was forced to make a landing where he did, about 4 miles southeast of Pilot Point."

The Cherokee sustained damage to the landing gear, the propeller and the right wing, all of which Price said were consistent with the plane being set down on relatively flat tundra.

Price said the plane's emergency locator transmitter, designed to automatically send a signal under certain crash conditions, did not activate upon impact. Authorities first heard of the crash when Kosbruk reported it in cellphone calls and text messages that were relayed to the Coast Guard.

"She was able to describe what airport they took off of, where they were headed, via text," Price said. "She was able to tell her husband, and they were able to tell her to make herself visible — she was able to turn on the ELT, get out, activate a strobe light."

The NTSB isn't sending anyone to Pilot Point to investigate the crash, but Price said investigators will be reviewing imagery from the crash site and looking into why the transmitter didn't activate.

Chris Klint

Chris Klint is a former ADN reporter who covered breaking news.