Aviation

Pilot's body found amid wreckage of Southwest Alaska plane crash

The body of a Yute Air pilot was discovered Monday inside the wreckage of the plane he was flying, which crashed in the Kwethluk River, Alaska State Troopers said Tuesday.

Blaze Highlander, 47, of Olympia, Washington, had taken a company Cessna 207 on a post-maintenance check flight from the company's Bethel base Saturday but never returned.

Bethel-based troopers were notified that Highlander was overdue shortly after 2:30 p.m. Saturday. The next day, investigators found the plane upside down in the Kwethluk River.

At first light Monday, troopers said, they began recovery efforts. Highlander's body was found later in the day.

His next of kin have been notified.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash. Highlander's death will remain an open investigation for troopers until an autopsy is conducted and the NTSB concludes its investigation, trooper spokesperson Megan Peters said.

"This case will be open until we get all of the pieces to close the report," Peters said. "Right now, it looks like one of many Alaska tragedies we have in the backcountry."

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Weather has hindered the recovery process, NTSB Alaska chief Clint Johnson said. Rain caused the Kwethluk River to rise 8 feet above normal, he said.

Two NTSB investigators were still at the crash site Tuesday, Johnson said, but they were expected to be taking their last look.

"There is only so much we can do if the airplane is submerged in the river," Johnson said. "A lot of other parts and pieces have probably gone downstream. But it will be up to the insurance company (and operator) to recover it."

A helicopter will likely have to be used to recover what remains of the plane, Johnson said.

Once recovered, the wreckage will be taken to Anchorage for further investigation.

Sunday's crash wasn't Highlander's first. He survived a 2011 crash near Kwigillingok.

A report from Bethel radio station KYUK at the time said the pilot was the only person aboard a Cessna 207 when it crashed just short of the runway in Kwigillingok on Dec. 21, 2011.

He suffered minor injuries in that crash, the NTSB reported.

An NTSB investigation found that the cause of that crash was icing that led to an aerodynamic stall.

Megan Edge

Megan Edge is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch and Alaska Dispatch News.

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