Pilot rescued after plane nosed over in Katmai National Park

The U.S. Coast Guard on Sunday afternoon picked up a pilot whose plane had taken a nose dive in deep, fresh snow along a lake in Katmai National Park and Preserve.

Pilot Leland Robbins, who was flying the Piper PA-18 Super Cub, said from Kodiak that he had gone out in search of wolves on Sunday.

"I thought with fresh snow I could locate them and fly back over and take pictures," Robbins said.

After spotting five moose, he decided to take a quick stop for a bathroom break at a lake by Hallo Glacier, about 75 miles northwest of Kodiak, before returning home.

"My problem was that my bladder was too small … I should have just wet my pants, it would have been simpler. It would have been cheaper," he chuckled.

When he tried to land, the snow on the frozen lake was much deeper than he expected — knee-deep, Robbins said, somewhere between 18 and 20 inches. He landed safely, but as he pulled the brakes the plane "nosed-over," he said.

The Coast Guard got Robbins' call around 12:40 p.m., and arrived just after 1 p.m., said Lauren Steenson, petty officer 3rd class with the U.S. Coast Guard air station Kodiak. A Coast Guard crew member helped steady the plane upright before taking Robbins back to Kodiak.


A few days before flying out, there hadn't been any snow on the lake, Robbins said. After about 5 inches fell in Kodiak, he expected to land his plane in a similar amount.

"Two days ago there was no snow, so I couldn't imagine. I kick myself now for not imagining it," Robbins said.

Damage to the plane had appeared to be relatively minimal, only the prop and spinner. "It was just basically smothered in the deep snow and came to a stop," he said.

The plane was still out on the lake on Monday, as Robbins waited out the weather to clear, so he could be flown back across Shelikof Strait along with a mechanic. He said they'd likely put skis on the plane, fix the prop and fly back.

Robbins, 72, said he had been flying planes since he was 18 years old. He said that as long as they could get back out to the plane before any heavy winds hit, it'd likely be easily resolved.

Laurel Andrews

Laurel Andrews was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Dispatch News and Alaska Dispatch. She left the ADN in October 2018.