Grant Aviation files suit against company that manages air traffic at Bethel

A video screenshot of the Grant Aviation plane on fire on the Bethel runway in July 2019. (Greg Lincoln/Delta Discovery)

Grant Aviation is suing the company that runs air traffic control at Bethel’s airport, claiming the company is responsible for a plane crash on the runway last year.

The case follows a report last week showing that Alaska had twice as many aviation accidents as the rest of the country. 

In July, a Grant Aviation Cessna 208B crashed on the Bethel runway and burst into flames. The five passengers on board only suffered minor injuries. It was a clear day with little to no wind, according to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board.

The report says the pilot, who was flying in from Newtok, asked to land on a particular runway because other planes were also landing at the time. The pilot was performing a “go around” maneuver when the air traffic controller interrupted him and urgently told him to “turn left immediately.” As the pilot obeyed, he says that the plane suddenly stalled, rolled right and then crashed.

The report says that the pilot saw the flames and evacuated the passengers before fire consumed the plane. The NTSB is still investigating.

Now, Grant Aviation is suing Serco, Inc., a Virginia-based company that employs air traffic controllers in Bethel. The complaint says Serco failed to properly train employees to manage the volume of airplane traffic that was coming in. Specifically, the complaint points to the air traffic controller’s abrupt command as proof of that negligence.

The Anchorage law firm representing Grant — Richmond & Quinn — did not return emails or phone calls seeking comment. Serco declined to comment. 

In an unrelated incident, something hit the props of another Grant Aviation plane during takeoff in Hooper Bay on Feb. 4. Two days later, a Yute Commuter Service plane crashed several miles from Tuntutuliak, killing everyone on board.

The NTSB report on Alaska’s high rate of aviation accidents urges federal regulators to work with the state to improve safety.