Hoonah-bound plane crashed when it hit a spruce and broke in two, says NTSB

A commuter-plane crash that left one dead and four seriously injured this month occurred when the single-engine Cessna hit a large spruce tree at about 1,250 feet above sea level, according to a preliminary government report issued Thursday.

The pilot, Fariah Peterson, 45, was found dead on site, according to the preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The early report lays out a timeline for what happened July 17 when Wings of Alaska Flight 202 went down, but it does not explain why the plane hit the spruce tree or say whether it caught fire.

Peterson and her four passengers left Juneau International Airport at about 1:08 p.m. ADT, cleared for takeoff for a 20-minute flight to Hoonah.

But they never made it. Ten minutes into the flight, the plane collided with the tree, the report says.

"After the initial impact, the airplane fuselage separated into two pieces," the report said. The cockpit and engine separated from the plane and landed upside down 50 feet from "the initial impact point." The rest of the plane landed upside-down below the crash point, on a hill surrounded by trees more than 100 feet tall, the report said.

Fifteen minutes after takeoff, one of the passengers called 911 from a cellphone and reported the crash, and soon after the U.S. Coast Guard received an emergency locator transmitter signal from the plane.


It was nearly an hour after the crash, at 2:21 p.m., when message of an overdue plane and the transmitter signal led a search-and-rescue crew to head out of Coast Guard Air Station Sitka.

It was 4:50 p.m. when the helicopter found the wreckage in the "mountainous, tree-covered terrain," the report said.

"A rescue swimmer was lowered to the accident site and discovered that one of the airplane's occupants, the pilot, died at the scene, and four others had survived the crash," the report says.

Previous reports indicated the first three survivors were lifted to the helicopter around 6:30 p.m., and the fourth an hour later. The Coast Guard issued a statement at 8 p.m. saying the pilot did not survive the crash.

A team dispatched to the wreckage the next day removed the multifunction display units from the plane and sent them to Washington, D.C., to the NTSB vehicle recorder laboratory. "A detailed engine examination is pending," the report said.

A representative from SePort Airlines Inc., which owns Wings of Alaska, said Peterson began working for the company about two months before the crash.

Peterson received a list of pilot certifications over the past 13 years, according to an email from Ian Gregor, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson.

In 2002, Peterson got her private pilot certificate followed by her first commercial certificate a year later. By May 2015, she was certified as a flight instructor for single and multiengine airplanes in instrument conditions -- meaning she could fly, under a flight plan, in weather that required her to use instruments instead of visual cues.

Reporter Tegan Hanlon contributed to this report.

Erica Martinson

Erica Martinson is Alaska Dispatch News' Washington, DC reporter, and she covers the legislation, regulation and litigation that impact the Last Frontier.  Erica came to ADN after years as a reporter covering energy at POLITICO. Before that, she covered environmental policy at a DC trade publication and worked at several New York dailies.