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Aviation

Floatplane in fatal crash on Prince William Sound landed with wheels extended, a known hazard

A Cessna A185F Skywagon is upside down in Cascade Bay, 20 miles southwest of Valdez, Alaska, May 21, 2019. Coast Guard Station Valdez small boat crews, an Alaska Air National Guard rescue helicopter crew and four good Samaritans responded to a report of a downed aircraft with three people aboard. One passenger died in the crash. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

A photo of the floatplane that crashed into the waters of Prince William Sound on Tuesday shows what probably happened: The Cessna A185F Skywagon flipped over after its still-extended wheels caught the surface of Cascade Bay.

The crash killed 75-year-old William Resinger of Palmer, who became trapped in the plane, authorities say. Pilot Scott Johannes, 56 of Wasilla, and passenger Sol Pitchon of Florida survived.

The photo shows the Cessna upside down, wheels sticking out of the floats. That’s a position that can have disastrous consequences during a water landing. Pilots are supposed to retract wheels in amphibious floats before they land. Otherwise, the drag can cause the plane to flip over.

The public is right to ask what’s left for the National Transportation Safety Board to figure out, said Clint Johnson, the agency’s Alaska chief. Instead, investigators will focus on the landing gear — and a system that’s supposed to warn pilots if something isn’t right.

NTSB investigators will look at the landing gear system once the wreckage is recovered, Johnson said.

“But probably more importantly, we’re looking at the operation of the gear warning system,” he said. The systems generally alert pilots to check gear as planes enter into a landing sequence.

Johannes crashed into the water while landing in the bay Tuesday afternoon. Four boats in the area responded to help. Weather at the time of the incident was calm seas, 2 mph winds and a water temperature of 50 degrees, according to the Coast Guard.

Planes with amphibious floats can land on paved runways or water, giving pilots added flexibility though adding weight to the craft. Planes like the one involved in Tuesday’s crash are supposed to alert pilots if they don’t bring up the wheels before landing.

Otherwise, the planes can flip over, as is graphically demonstrated in a YouTube video from 2006.

An investigator is still waiting to travel to the area, about 20 miles southwest of Valdez. The wreckage shifted on Thursday, authorities said. NTSB and the Coast Guard requested an updated position and Alaska Wildlife Troopers located the wreckage by boat, troopers spokesman Ken Marsh said.

NTSB will send an investigator to the area once the wreckage is righted and at least moored on a beach, Johnson said.

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