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NTSB Releases Reports on 2 Deadly September Plane Crashes

Published On: Apr 24 2014 10:08:46 PM AKDT
NTSB Releases Factual Report on Fatal Plane Crash near Eureka

The National Transportation Safety Board has released reports on two deadly Alaska small-plane crashes in early September, among a series of findings on similar incidents expected to be released in coming weeks.

In an NTSB factual report on a Sept. 9 crash near Big Lake released Thursday, investigators say 66-year-old pilot Kenneth Whedbee, who died in the crash, had taken off in an experimental Zenith CH-701 aircraft shortly before 1 p.m. looking for an animal in the area. His passenger, 37-year-old Jason Scott, was also injured.

"According to a family member of the pilot, a large male grizzly bear had been leaving tracks on the family's private runway over the last several years," NTSB officials wrote. "When a report came in that the grizzly had been seen protecting a moose kill in the area, the pilot decided to take the airplane, and see if he could locate the bear."

Shortly after the crash, Whedbee's friends and family remembered him for saying, "Live life where you're at." He had recently survived a battle with cancer, and was known for both his devotion to his relatives and his selection of "Alaskan toys" such as four-wheelers and his plane.

An autopsy on Whedbee found two drugs in his system: yohimbine, a prescription drug for erectile dysfunction, and isoproterenol, which the NTSB report notes is "typically used as an intravenous therapy to treat patients in shock."

Clint Johnson, chief of the NTSB's Alaska office, says investigators aren't concerned about Whedbee's toxicology results, noting that arriving paramedics probably used the latter drug during efforts to resuscitate Whedbee.

"Most likely, that was done trying to rescue him," Johnson said. "If it's a positive (toxicology report), then we have to report it."

The report also says that Scott, the plane's passenger, hadn't spoken with investigators. According to Johnson, that has been a result of the "lasting" injuries Scott suffered in the crash.

"His injuries were such that he was not able to speak with us," Johnson said.

Investigators at the scene found that Whedbee's plane had struck the ground at a high angle, severely damaging its cockpit. The aircraft's flight controls were found to be have been operable at the time of the crash, however, and its Rotax engine later "started without hesitation or stumbling, and ran to full throttle" during a test in Big Lake.

While Johnson says the report in the Big Lake crash is factual and doesn't indicate a probable cause, the details of the incident are similar to those of a Sept. 5 Cessna 170B crash near Glennallen which killed 41-year-old former Alaska State Trooper Michael Zobel.

The NTSB issued a brief report indicating the Glennallen crash's probable cause Wednesday, following witness reports that Zobel had been turning to spot the carcass of a moose he had shot, at speeds below the Cessna's rated stall speed.

"Given the lack of mechanical deficiencies with the airplane and engine, the witness statements, and the nature of the damage to the airplane, it is likely that the pilot inadvertently stalled and spun the airplane at a low altitude and was unable to recover," NTSB officials wrote.

According to Johnson, the recent uptick in reports reflects a typical NTSB workload, with investigators completing crash reports from late last year over the following winter.

"During the summer months, they're collecting them, and then during the winter months they're writing them," Johnson said. "That's kind of normal for this time of the year."

Johnson says investigators are still working on another high-profile downed aircraft -- the July 7 crash on takeoff of a Rediske Air de Havilland DHC-3 Otter at the Soldotna Airport, which killed 10 people including two families from South Carolina. He anticipates that more information might be released "in the next month or so," with a structural engineer working on the crash at the NTSB's Anchorage office Thursday.

"It's still very much an active investigation," Johnson said.

Channel 2's Samantha Angaiak contributed information to this story.