NTSB Report on Wasilla Midair Crash Inconclusive

The National Transportation Safety Board has released a preliminary report on a January midair collision of two light planes.

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According to the report, released on Tuesday, eyewitnesses say the January 31 crash, in clear weather, occurred when the planes were flying at about the same altitude, one heading Southwest, the other Northwest. They collided at a 90 degree angle a few miles Southwest of Wasilla. The crash sent both pilots to the hospital with serious injuries. NTSB Alaska Chief Clint Johnson:

“The information that is in the preliminary report does reflect what we know up to this point. We were able to interview a number of witnesses who actually saw the collision took place, and the airplanes basically came together right over the South Hollywood airstrip, just coincidentally. The collision took place anywhere between 1500 and 2000 feet. We are still trying to nail down exactly what the altitude was, but at this point right now, that is what the Trooper pilot was able to tell us.”

Both planes were Piper PA 18 Super Cubs. One was piloted by Levi Duell, 35, a state Wildlife Trooper, the other, by 53 year old Jeffrey Bara.

The damaged planes spiraled down into birch and spruce forest. Bara’s plane lost most of a wing after the collision, and his plane landed upside down.

“The Trooper airplane after the collision had minimal elevator control, whereas the elevator controls the pitch of the airplane, the up and down basically. And however, he was able to regain limited control before going into the trees. The other plane, Mr. Bara’s airplane was not so lucky. It actually lost the entire right wing and descended in an uncontrolled spiral into the trees, ” Johnson says.

Johnson says that it is possible the pilots were not tuned to the same radio frequency. He says Duell transmitted his take off intention on a prescribed frequency for the area.

“Both of those radios were removed from each one of the wreckages and sent to our vehicle recorder lab, and they’ll be examining them to see if by chance they were on the same frequencies, but that is just a data point at this point right now. That is part of the investigation ”

The planes’ radios are being sent to NTSB facilities in Washington DC.

The actual cause of the crash will not be determined for months. Johnson says the NTSB tries to complete accident reports within a year. He says midair collision are rare. The last one in Alaska, in Talkeetna in 2011, took four lives.