Updated Oct. 18, 6:15 p.m.
UNALASKA — One passenger died and another was medevaced to Anchorage for further treatment after a PenAir airplane arriving from Anchorage went off the runway at Unalaska’s airport on Thursday evening.
There were 42 people on the plane, including 39 passengers and three crew members, according to the Unalaska Department of Public Safety. While the department initially reported there were 39 people total aboard the plane, the number was updated Friday afternoon.
The department said 11 people sustained injuries ranging from minor to critical. One person, 38-year-old Washington resident David Allan Oltman, died from traumatic injuries suffered in the crash, according to Alaska State Troopers.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of our passengers and crew, and the family members of everyone with loved ones on this flight,” PenAir CEO Dave Pflieger said in a statement.
Passengers included a school swim team and chaperones from Cordova, according to a Thursday evening Facebook post by the Cordova School District. The group is safe, “albeit a bit shaken up,” according to the post by Superintendent Alex Russin. The Cordova Times reported that one student, Charlie Carroll, 16, had a piece of metal embedded in his left leg during the crash, according to his mother.
City Manager Erin Reinders was at the airport when the Thursday evening flight arrived around 5:40 p.m. She said the plane came from the west side of Mount Ballyhoo, which stands above the runway with water on either side.
“We watched one [landing] attempt, and it was going with the wind, [approaching] from the Hog Island side,” said Reinders. “Then it went back up [for] a second attempt. It went with the wind again. It did land, so all the wheels were on the ground. And then it wasn’t stopping. It was slowing down, and it was apparent that it was slowing down, but it wasn’t stopping.”
According to data recorded at the Unalaska Airport at 5:56 p.m. by the National Weather Service, a west north west was blowing at 24 miles per hour, with gusts up to 31 miles per hour. There was light rain and visibility of 5 miles.
The Dutch Harbor airport presents pilots with an array of challenges that would each be imposing alone, said Joe Phillips, who spent nearly four decades flying in Alaska — including two with PenAir.
The airport has a short runway that has water at its east and west ends, and Mount Ballyhoo on its north side. Pilots can face the Aleutians’ notoriously strong winds, and they’re periodically forced to divert to a longer jet runway in Cold Bay, nearly 200 miles northeast.
“You’re dealing with some of the worst weather, if not the worst weather, this planet has to offer pilots. On top of that, it’s a short runway and it’s up against a hill,” said Phillips, who’s flown into the airport a few times. “It takes a steady nerve, and the best equipment. Bad weather, bad wind, bad location, short runway — all those things contribute.”
As of Friday evening, NTSB inspectors had arrived and city officials were working to move the plane so that regular traffic can resume along the portside road. Cordova’s swim team left the island to return home on an unexpected flight arranged by Ravn, which sent a Dash 8 aircraft to take students back to Cordova — or to Anchorage, for at least one who wanted further medical care.
Despite those flights by Ravn and NTSB, officials say Unalaska’s airport is still formally closed.
PenAir officials said the airline, which is owned by Ravn Air Group, “is in close contact and fully cooperating with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which will be investigating this accident.”
Airline officials also said: “PenAir and Ravn have established a family assistance line for everyone who has loved ones on this flight. Please call 1-800-757-4784 if you need any additional information.”
KUCB reporter Laura Kraegel contributed reporting from Unalaska. Alaska Public Media reporters Nathaniel Herz, Kirsten Swann and Abbey Collins contributed reporting from Anchorage.