Aviation

NTSB: Cargo of floatplane in fatal Willow crash included masonry mortar and propane

A floatplane that crashed July 18 on a chartered flight from Willow Lake was carrying masonry mortar, several totes full of food and two propane tanks, according to a new report from the National Transportation Safety Board.

The single-engine de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver was on a commercial, chartered flight from Willow Lake to a lake north of Skwentna.

Pilot Colt Richter, 24, was killed. His female passenger and her 2 1/2-year-old son survived.

Richter was flying for Regal Air, an Anchorage-based air taxi and flightseeing company.

The flight was chartered by the Alaska Medicaid Travel Office to provide round-trip transportation for the woman from her home at the remote lake to the Willow Seaplane Base and back, according to the report. She flew with her son from their home July 16.

The flight that crashed two days later was supposed to be their flight home.

Richter arrived at Willow around 6:20 that night and loaded cargo onto the plane, the report said. The passenger's statement described the contents: multiple bags of masonry mortar, three totes full of food and stores, two propane tanks, and miscellaneous baggage and supplies.

Just prior to departure, the passenger was seated in the second row with her son on her lap, according to the NTSB.

The passenger told investigators that Richter made two unsuccessful attempts to take off from Willow Lake, the report said. Witnesses said the plane looked heavy; three people recorded the takeoff attempts on their phones. It crashed soon after a third attempt, departing to the south and dropping out of sight below the tree line.

Around 7 p.m., many people in a neighborhood southeast of Willow Lake heard a "loud impact and witnessed smoke rising above the site," said the report, written by investigator Noreen Price. A neighbor saw the passenger walking with her son in her arms outside the plane, which was engulfed in flames.

The plane crashed nose-down on a flat, wooded residential lot, the report said. The post-crash fire incinerated the fuselage, empennage, floats and cargo.

The Willow Fire Department and Alaska State Troopers responded. The Alaska Rescue Coordination Center sent an HH-60 helicopter to the site.

The woman said she couldn't rouse Richter when she and her child got out of the plane, investigators have said. The fire sparked a wildland fire that was brought under control that night.

The report released Tuesday is preliminary information only and does not provide any probable cause of the crash.

Generally, it's a pilot's responsibility to ensure the weight carried by an aircraft is within the limits of the plane's design.

Price, in an interview Tuesday, said there is no evidence at this point to suggest the plane was either overweight or out of balance. Investigators have yet to determine how much weight was in the plane, or how the load was distributed.

"The details will be part of the investigation," she said.

A probable cause report could take up to two years to complete.

This was apparently the first fatal crash involving a Medicaid-chartered aircraft, federal and state officials say.

Alaska Medicaid pays for travel "to the closest provider for services that are considered medically necessary," according to a statement from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, which oversees the state's Medicaid program. "Basic travel expenses including airfare, lodging, ground transportation, and meal vouchers are covered for Medicaid travel."

The office doesn't fund additional air carrier fees, the statement continued. "Travelers are expected to adhere to all air carrier travel restrictions, including baggage restrictions."

Medicaid does not monitor what patients do on their personal time while traveling to and from their appointment, state officials say.

There is no policy on what people bring back from the community where their appointment happened, a department spokeswoman said in an email. Each air carrier determines the cargo and policies.