Pilot crashed into Anchorage building where wife worked during unauthorized flight

One person is dead after a small plane struck an office building in downtown Anchorage. Investigators say the pilot was not authorized to fly the aircraft Tuesday morning, and sources confirm his wife works as an attorney in the building struck.

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An NTSB investigator photographing wreckage from the crash. Investigators will spend the next few hours documenting the site as they piece together what happened to cause the crash. Photo: Zachariah Hughes.
An NTSB investigator photographing wreckage from the crash. Investigators will spend the next few hours documenting the site as they piece together what happened to cause the crash. Photo: Zachariah Hughes.
The small plane struck the southwest corner of the Brady Building flying towards downtown from over Cook Inlet. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA.
The small plane struck the northwest corner of the Brady Building flying towards downtown from over Cook Inlet. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA.

The six-story Brady Building, at 4th Avenue and L Street, houses the Alaska Department of Law and other offices. The plane struck the back corner of the building, on L St. between 3rd and 4th.

Investigators report one fatality, First Lieutenant Douglas Demarest. No injuries are reported in either the building or the street below.

The Anchorage Fire Department had the area taped off early Tuesday morning, expanding the perimeter slightly as investigators took photos of the crash. AFD was on scene suppressing the last of the flames.

Assistant Chief Alex Boyd with the Anchorage Fire Department said the fire was fairly easy to control, and did not involve the surrounding buildings.

“Initially when they arrived on scene it was the wreckage of the aircraft that was burning, and the residual fuel from the aircraft,” Boyd said.

Gov. Bill Walker was briefly on-scene, talking with emergency responders but not fielding questions.

By mid-day, the Federal Bureau of Investigation released information that there is no structural damage to either of the buildings affected by the crash. Staci Feger-Pellessier is a spokesperson for the FBI in Anchorage, and said it’s not uncommon for the Bureau to partner with NTSB after an aviation incident.

“I can say unequivocally: We do not believe that this was related to terrorism,” Feger-Pellessier said during a phone interview.

Laying four stories beneath a large gash in the building’s corner, surrounded by broken glass, was a crumpled red wing from the small plane. Written on it were the letters C-A-P, for Civil Air Patrol, a civilian volunteer group that help with search and rescue missions across the country. Demarest joined the Alaska chapter in 2010.

Most of the fire from the crash was confined to the plane as risidual fuel burned off, causing some damage to nearby buildings. Two hours after the crash, AFD was still trying to suppress a dumpster fire and secure the scene. Photo: Zachariah Hughes.
Most of the fire from the crash was confined to the plane as risidual fuel burned off, causing some damage to nearby buildings. Two hours after the crash, AFD was still trying to suppress a dumpster fire and secure the scene. Photo: Zachariah Hughes.

NTSB investigator Clint Johnson described CAP as the “life-blood” of search and rescue efforts. But it was unclear why Demarest was flying the plane in the dark, during gusty weather, and without a flight plan on file.

“It doesn’t sound like this was a sanctioned flight for CAP,” Johnson said at the crash site.

CAP eventually confirmed that Demarest was not authorized to fly the plane Tuesday morning.

NTSB’s investigation into what caused the crash is on-going. As of Tuesday afternoon, officials could not confirm the plane’s path prior to the accident. The Alaska Dispatch News reported eyewitnesses saw the plane circling overhead before the collision.

A source close with Demarest confirmed that his wife, Katherine Demarest, works as an attorney for Dorsey and Whitney LLP in the Brady Building.

Officials are not yet able to say whether the crash was deliberate or accidental.