Pilot in fatal Yute plane crash began training with the airline the month before, NTSB report says

The wreckage from the Yute Commuter Service plane that crashed Feb. 6 was strewn across almost 400 feet of frozen tundra near Tuntutuliak. (National Transportation Safety Board)

preliminary report gives more detail about the fatal crash of a Yute Commuter Service plane on Feb. 6 that killed all five on board.

The National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report on the accident says that pilot Tony Matthews began training with the airline on Jan. 7, 2020, a month before the crash.

He had a total flight time of 611 hours, with 500 hours being the minimum requirement for a commercial pilot. The report also says that Matthews only logged 30 hours in the airplane make and model that he was flying when it crashed. However, Yute General Manager Nathan McCabe says that’s only technically true.

“Within his 500 hours he also flew, not our plane, but a similar plane,” McCabe said.

McCabe did say that the flight that crashed midway from Bethel to Kipnuk was only Matthews’ fourth flight with Yute, aside from training. 

The plane took off around 10:40 a.m. while clouds were hovering at about 600 feet. According to the report, a pilot for another company who took off just after Matthews said that he had to receive special Visual Flight Rules clearance with that cloud ceiling. 

An hour after the accident, both Bethel and Kipnuk airports reported that the clouds had dropped to 400 feet, with visibility also reduced to a half-mile in snow, mist and freezing fog.

The Yute agent in Kipnuk reported the plane overdue an hour after it took off from Bethel. Yute dispatched two airplanes to go search for the missing group. A crew spotted the wreckage about halfway between Bethel and Kipnuk. The report states that the remnants of the plane were strewn across almost 400 feet of frozen tundra. 

Since that crash, McCabe says that Yute has added new self-imposed restrictions on both new pilot experience and weather conditions to take off. 

“With any new pilot they will do more than 20 hours (initial operating experience), so they’re going to have an instructor with them for more than 20 hours now,” McCabe said. He said that the current requirement is 10 hours.

“And they’re only going to fly 40 miles, 40 nautical miles from Bethel,” he said.

McCabe doesn’t know yet how long a new pilot will be restricted within 40 miles of Bethel. He says that they are still working out all the details of their new safety requirements. 

Another one of those changes is a heightened wariness of the weather. McCabe says that Yute has increased the cloud ceiling requirement from 500 to 600 feet. 

“At the moment, we are doing everything we can to put things in place so they’re much safer,” McCabe said.

The NTSB’s full report with the probable cause of the Feb. 6 crash has yet to be released.