By Dan Joling Associated Press
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Federal crash investigators are looking at foul weather as a factor in an Alaska crash that killed a Washington state pilot and two South Carolina passengers on a commercial tour.
The June 28 crash in Broad Pass in the Alaska Range near Cantwell killed Dale Hemman, 61, of Steilacoom; and passengers John Ellenberg, 74, of Greenville and Laurie Buckner, 52, of Simpsonville, S.C.
Hemman was the operator of a flying tour group business, Fairbanks-based Let’s Fly Alaska. The business conducted guided aerial tours of people flying their own planes from Washington to Alaska.
The morning of the crash, Hemman was leading 19 small airplanes on a flight from Fairbanks to Homer.
In a preliminary report, the National Transportation Safety Board said Hemman was operating a twin-engine Beech Baron 95-B55 airplane. Weather conditions requiring instrument flight rules were reported in the mountain passes he planned to use to cross the Alaska Range.
The other 18 airplanes were divided into two fast and slow-flying groups and each had its own leader.
The fast group leader told investigators that Hemman left at about 10 a.m., 10 minutes before the fast airplanes, to check weather through Windy Pass and Broad Pass and to make arrangements in Homer.
As the fast group approached Windy Pass, the leader said, weather started to deteriorate with low clouds, haze and restricted visibility. He also received a radio broadcast from another pilot warning that Windy Pass was not open because of bad weather. The leader and his group landed at Healy River Airport on the north side of the Alaska Range about 80 miles south of Fairbanks.
After learning that the fast group hand landed, the leader of the slow airplanes also led his group to Healy. He waited about an hour, took off by himself to check conditions and turned back from thick clouds in Broad Pass.
The other pilots reported Hemman missing.
Investigators determined that Hemman crashed at about 10:40 a.m. 15 miles southwest of Cantwell. A community fire crew spotted fire from the crash at around noon.
Wreckage of the aircraft, equipped with two 300-horsepower engines, was spread over 726 feet of brush and tundra, indicating a high-speed crash.
Five video cameras mounted on the airplane’s exterior were recovered and sent to the NTSB vehicle recorder laboratory in Washington, DC, for review. A final crash investigation report could take nine months or longer.