PALMER — The pilot killed when his plane crashed into the Matanuska River in November descended before striking an unmarked cable about 30 feet above the partly frozen water as the pilot of an accompanying plane watched, according to a new federal report.
Authorities say they are looking closely at the absence of markings on the cable as part of the investigation into the crash. Separately, aviators are working with federal authorities to reinstate a warning about such lines along a stretch of the river.
The cable, which was associated with a hand tram, was strung across the river from private land, officials said. It extended from the Glenn Highway near Chickaloon to several buildings on the far side of the river.
Joshua Seagrave, 46, moved to Palmer with his partner, Jen, in January to start a new career as a bush pilot, friends and family said last month. They described Seagrave as an avid outdoorsman who spent 10 years as a U.S. Army Ranger and another decade as a parachute instructor based in Arizona.
The Nov. 10 crash occurred near Mile 77 of the Glenn Highway, Alaska State Troopers said.
Seagrave was flying a Piper PA-18 as a student pilot, according to a preliminary report the National Transportation Safety Board released Thursday.
A friend said Seagrave and the pilot of another plane — a Cessna 172 — flew from Wolf Lake airstrip near Palmer around 11 a.m. that day, according to the report. They were returning together when the accident occurred just before noon.
“The friend reported that the pilot of the Cessna 172 saw the Piper PA-18 descend and fly at a low altitude along the river,” chief investigator Millicent Hill wrote.
Seagrave’s plane struck the cable that ran about 30 feet above the river, Hill said.
The plane came to rest upside down in the river.
Members of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough dive team removed the plane from the water with assistance from Matanuska Towing & Recovery, troopers said. Seagrave’s body was removed from the water and turned over to a local funeral home.
Investigators said Thursday it appeared Seagrave was just cruising above the river rather than trying to land when the crash occurred.
The cable that Seagraves struck is under scrutiny now, officials say. Several pilots voiced concerns on social media about the threat it posed after the crash. The cable had been there for some time, aviators say.
Hill is working closely with the Federal Aviation Administration to learn more about the history of the cable, whether it should have been marked, whether it was marked in the past — “all the questions everyone is asking,” NTSB Alaska chief Clint Johnson said Thursday. “We’re working on it.”
The structures associated with the cable are on private lands, based on a review of state and Matanuska-Susitna Borough information, according to Lorraine Henry, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.
“DNR has no record of any applications or complaints associated with this cable system,” Henry said in an email.
Separately, a representative of the Alaska Airmen’s Association said he and other pilots are working with the FAA to reinstate a general warning about uncharted lines over a larger section of the Matanuska River that includes the Chickaloon area.
The warning referenced numerous uncharted powerlines and cable crossings “reported to exist on the Matanuska River between Eureka Lodge and Palmer,” according to Adam White, a Nenana pilot who serves as government and legislative affairs representative for the airmen’s association.
It was removed from aeronautical charts known as “sectionals” in 2019, White said.
“For whatever reason, it came off,” he said Thursday. “Would that have helped in this case? I don’t know. I don’t really know.”
An FAA spokesman couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
The Piper PA-18 Seagrave was flying was moved to a facility for examination, according to the NTSB report, which noted gouges along the leading edge of one of the blades.
A probable cause report on the crash isn’t due out until next year.
Reporter Tess Williams contributed to this story.