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NTSB: Witnesses Concerned Before Deadly St. Mary’s Plane Crash

By Chris Klint, Senior Digital Producer, cklint@ktuu.com
Published On: Dec 24 2013 03:33:46 PM AKST
Updated On: Dec 10 2013 11:19:00 AM AKST
Plane Crash Investigation near Saint Mary's

Alaska State Troopers

Alaska State Troopers confirm that four people died in a Friday (11/29/13) night crash of a Hageland commuter flight near the Western Alaska community of Saint Mary's.

ANCHORAGE -

National Transportation Safety Board officials say witnesses were concerned about a Nov. 29 Hageland Aviation flight that crashed after diverting to St. Mary’s, killing four people and injuring six others.

According to the NTSB preliminary report on the 6:24 p.m. crash of the Cessna 208B Caravan, released Tuesday, the aircraft was being operated as Era Alaska Flight 1543.

The Cessna’s pilot, 68-year-old Terry Hanson, was killed in the crash along with three passengers from Mountain Village: Rose Polty, 57, Richard Polty, 65, and 5-month-old infant Wyatt Coffee. Six other Mountain Village survived the crash with serious injuries: Melanie Coffee, 25; Pauline Johnson, 37; Kylan Johnson, 14; Shannon Lawrence; Tonya Lawrence, 35; and Garrett Moses, 30.

The preliminary report says the flight had originated in Bethel and was en route to Mountain Village with a planned continuation to St. Mary’s, but was diverted to St. Mary’s by poor weather.

“Night, instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) prevailed at the St. Mary's airport at the time of the accident and company flight following procedures were in effect,” officials wrote.

When the aircraft passed by St. Mary’s headed for Mountain Village at 5:41 p.m., people on the ground noted its position in the sky.

“Being concerned about the direction and altitude the airplane was flying, the witnesses attempted to contact the pilot on the radio, with no response,” officials wrote. “They then heard another aircraft on the radio report that there was an Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) going off in the vicinity of St. Mary's.”

A search for the aircraft took only an hour to find the plane, about a mile southeast of the airport. Three people were dead at the scene, with a fourth dying after arriving at a hospital for treatment. The six survivors were all taken to Anchorage for treatment.

The NTSB says the aircraft wasn’t fitted with recording devices found in other aircraft, a factor which may complicate the investigation.

“The accident airplane was not equipped, nor was it required to be equipped with, a cockpit voice recorder (CVR), or a flight data recorder (FDR),” officials wrote.

When NTSB investigators reached the scene on Dec. 1, the wreckage was found at a mean sea level altitude of 425 feet, in an area of tundra with a ridge at 530 feet.

“From the initial point of impact, the airplane traveled approximately 200 feet before coming to rest in an upright position,” officials wrote. “The airplane sustained substantial damage to the fuselage, empennage, and wings. An on-scene documentation of the wreckage was completed, and a detailed wreckage examination is pending, following recovery of the airplane.”

Conditions at the St. Mary’s airport eight minutes before the crash included a temperature of 18 degrees, winds from the southwest at 7 knots, visibility at 3 statute miles and overcast skies with cloud cover at 300 feet.