A plane crash Sunday evening in the Wood Tikchik State Park north of Dillingham appears to have claimed the life of the pilot. A Grumman Widgeon piloted by 71-year-old Newt Ball crashed during a landing on Tikchik Lake at around 5:15 p.m. Ball was reportedly the only person on board, and is presumed to have died on impact. He was flying for the air taxi service Freshwater Adventures to pick up a hunter from a float trip; that hunter witnessed the crash and was able to notify authorities on Sunday evening. The hunter reported that the plane made several passes before attempting a landing, but a wing clipped the surface of the lake while touching down, the plane broke apart, and sank almost immediately. The Alaska State Troopers in Dillingham began investigation and recovery efforts Monday afternoon after waiting for thick morning fog to clear.
Newt Ball was born and raised in Dillingham. The Ball family has a long history of flying in Alaska, and Newt was no exception: he had his private pilot rating before graduating from high school, and earned a commercial rating shortly thereafter. In a career that spanned more than five decades, Newt Ball flew air taxi and air cargo in Bristol Bay and around Alaska, and also flew for Continental Airlines. He retired as one of the most senior captains at Continental, with more than 30,000 air hours, all without accident, incident, or violation. The Grumman Widgeon that Ball was piloting in the accident was built in the 1940′s and had been used by Freshwater Adventures for more than a decade. Since retiring from Continental, Ball lived in Kent, Washington but had been spending summers in Dillingham flying for Freshwater Adventures, which is owned by his brother Jerry Ball. He was planning to return home this week; Sunday’s flight to Tikchik Lake was his last scheduled flight of the season.