Jim Tweto — a Unalakleet bush pilot and rural aviation figure known by many for his starring role on the Discovery Channel series “Flying Wild Alaska” — died Friday in a Western Alaska plane crash that also killed an outdoor guide from Idaho, authorities said.
Alaska State Troopers received notice of an SOS activation around 11:48 a.m. Friday, followed by a report that a Cessna 180 had crashed 35 miles northeast of Shaktoolik, troopers said in an online update.
The aircraft “was witnessed taking off but not climbing and then crashing,” troopers said in their report posted late Friday night. Troopers then received additional information saying the plane’s two occupants — identified as Tweto, 68, and 45-year-old passenger Shane Reynolds from Orofino, Idaho — were dead, the agency said.
A third person in their hunting party who’d stayed on the ground witnessed the plane crash, troopers spokesman Tim DeSpain said Saturday.
Troopers responding from Nome recovered both men’s bodies from the site of the crash Friday, according to their report.
Next of kin were notified, and the men’s bodies were taken to the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Anchorage, troopers said.
Clint Johnson, the National Transportation Safety Board’s Alaska chief, said Saturday that the NTSB, along with the Federal Aviation Administration, is investigating the crash.
The NTSB plans to send a crew including representatives from the airframe manufacturer and the Federal Aviation Administration to Nome, he said. From there, the team will then travel by helicopter to the remote crash site later in the weekend or early next week once a storm system in the area cleared, according to Johnson.
Tweto’s daughter Ariel posted on Instagram that Tweto and “a wonderful hunting guide and friend of our family” died Friday in her father’s Cessna 180. According to the website of the business Northwest Fishing Expeditions, operated by Reynolds, he was an experienced fisherman and big game hunter who had provided guiding services in Alaska and across the Pacific Northwest for years. Reynolds is survived by his wife, Gina, and their daughter in Idaho.
Longtime bush pilot Jim Tweto was born in Kansas in 1954 and grew up in Minnesota, and at age 18, he came to Alaska to play hockey at the University of Alaska Anchorage. In 1980, he settled in Unalakleet, where he met wife Ferno and fostered his passion for aviation, according to biographical information on Discovery’s website.
Tweto was a co-owner of Hageland Aviation Services and then Era Alaska, which would later become Ravn Air Group. He was thrust into the national spotlight when he, his wife and their daughters Ariel, Ayla and Elaine — all aviators — were featured in the documentary television series “Flying Wild Alaska,” which followed bush pilots working in some of the most remote parts of the state. The Twetos’ family-owned business figured prominently in the show, which aired for three seasons in 2011 and 2012.
Ariel Tweto said in her social media post that her father “died doing what he truly loved.”