State Troopers have identified the pilot who died when a Yute Air plane went down on the Kwethluk River. Megan Peters is a spokesperson for the Alaska State Troopers, which responded to the scene 40 miles southeast of Bethel.
“They were eventually able to verify the pilot was inside the aircraft and they were able to tentatively identify the pilot as Blaze Highlander, age 47 of Olympia Washington,” said Peters.
Next of kin has been notified. Highlander was found in the plane, which was upside down and mostly submerged in the river.
On Sunday night, teams found the wreckage of the plane that went missing the day before. The plane left Bethel at about 8:30 Saturday morning for a maintenance check and should have been back in three hours. Troopers received a report that the pilot was breaking in a new engine.
The National Transportation Safety Board has two investigators on scene. Clint Johnson, the chief of the Alaska Office says because there was no radio communication prior to the plane going down, the physical evidence is a big part of their early investigation. Recent rains are complicating the recovery of the partially-submerged aircraft.
“The water over the top of the wreckage has increased, which will make it more difficult for them to get those parts and pieces out of the water,” said Johnson.
There were no passengers besides the pilot as it was on a maintenance check flight following engine work. Johnson says his team is reviewing maintenance records, and once the 207 is removed from the water they hope to study it in Bethel or Anchorage.
“Obviously, because this was a maintenance operation check flight, that was the reason for the flight. We want to make sure we don’t miss anything that may be mechanically wrong with the airplane,” said Johnson.
Johnson says the agency hopes to have a preliminary accident report in five days. The full investigation may take a year.