Engine sounds heard before Alaska plane crash

By Becky Bohrer, Associated Press | Posted - Sep. 17, 2014 at 2:42 p.m.


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JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Two witnesses on the ground described hearing a high-pitched sound from the engine of a small airplane before it crashed last year on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula, killing all 10 people aboard.

Another reported seeing a puff of black smoke from the engine area.

The witness statements were included in investigative documents released Wednesday by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The documents provide no theories or analysis of what investigators believe might have caused the fiery crash in the town of Soldotna, about 65 air miles from Anchorage. The plane, a for-hire air taxi, went down shortly after takeoff at the Soldotna airport, killing the pilot and two South Carolina families. The flight was bound for a lodge about 90 miles away.

A final report on the July 2013 accident is pending and could come later this year or early next, NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said.

The reports released Wednesday include information on the weather in the area, the condition of the plane and a weight and balance study. The latter looked at different possible scenarios.

Calculated weight based on the load manifest provided by Rediske Air, the plane's operator, was about 7,400 pounds, below the maximum gross weight of 8,000 pounds allowed by the plane's certification. The scenario that the NTSB said more closely approximated the weight and balance of the plane that day was about 8,020 pounds.

Rediske Air's chief pilot told investigators they do not have to record weight and balance for their single-engine airplanes but get the names and weights of passengers and weigh cargo if the weight seems questionable.

The NTSB said there were no witnesses to the actual crash. A woman at a campground about a half-mile away told investigators she heard the plane take off and said the engine had a "very high pitch sound." Shortly thereafter, there was silence, before she heard a loud "pop."

Another woman at the campground said she heard what she thought was a plane taking off, "but she thought that the engine had a very high-pitched sound, not like what other planes sound like," according to her witness statement.

A man who was driving on a road near the runway told investigators he saw the plane take off. He said the nose wasn't excessively high and the takeoff posture seemed normal, but he also saw a puff of black smoke from the exhaust on the lower right side of the plane.

"He did not see anything else until he was clear of the hangars at the east end of the airport," according to the investigators' record of his statement. "It was at this time he saw the post-impact smoke."

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Becky Bohrer

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