Investigators find holes in planes’ floats after 2 deadly Alaska crashes

Heavy weight and holes in a plane’s floats may have contributed to the aircraft overturning as it tried to take off from Fairbanks earlier this month, a preliminary report showed. The pilot died in the crash.

Jerald Stansel, 75, was a longtime Brooks Range wilderness guide who operated his business from the Chena Marina airstrip in west Fairbanks.

On Oct. 5, Stansel had loaded his float-equipped Cessna A185F with fishing gear, fuel jugs, backpacks, a generator and camping gear, the National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report said.

The plane attempted to take off, but a witness reported that Stansel aborted the takeoff and turned around to begin taxiing to try again. The floats appeared to be nearly fully submerged and the nose was low to the water, the report said.

The plane rolled slightly to the left and nosed over, flipping onto its back, according to the NTSB.

The plane was close to shore when it overturned, said Clint Johnson, chief of the NTSB’s Alaska office. Good Samaritans and first responders tried to free Stansel from the plane’s cockpit, but Johnson said unsecured cargo had shifted around and trapped him.

Stansel was eventually extricated from the wreckage and taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, troopers said.


An NTSB investigator found that “a substantial amount of cargo was being transported within the left float locker,” the report said. The plane was heavy, Johnson said, which naturally would have made the floats sit lower in the water.

Investigators found two unplugged holes underneath the front bumper of each of the floats, the report said. The floats most likely took on water while the plane was attempting to take off, Johnson said.

The holes appear to have been added to the floats, he said, although investigators are still looking into what purpose they served. They may have been used at one point to attach an accessory, like lights or a different type of bumper.

The investigation is still in the preliminary stages, Johnson said.

Stansel ran a guiding business, Alaska Fish & Trails Unlimited, for more than 40 years. He led clients on hiking tours in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve and offered rafting, canoeing, backpacking, fishing and photography trips, according to his website.

Stansel was selling the business and told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in December that he wanted to spend more time with his family.

Investigators also recently identified issues with a float in a fatal plane crash in September near Skwentna, Johnson said.

Janell Rude was overdue for a planned arrival at Lake Hood in Anchorage on Sept. 25, an NTSB preliminary report said. Another pilot spotted her float-equipped Cessna 180A overturned and submerged in Whiskey Lake.

Investigators believe the plane was likely taking off when it crashed, Johnson said.

The wreckage was moved to shore early this month so that it could be examined by aviation officials. The bottom of the floats “were heavily corroded and discolored,” the NTSB report said. Investigators found a large tear on the bottom of the right float, according to Johnson. The left float had separated from the plane, the report said.

Tess Williams

Tess Williams is a reporter focusing on breaking news and public safety. Before joining the ADN in 2019, she was a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota. Contact her at twilliams@adn.com.