• Labor Day weekend
A pilot was killed in a single-engine float plane crash on the McKeon Flats across Kachemak Bay from Homer on Friday, an accident that went undetected until discovered by Homer Electric crews.
The pilot, identified as 66-year-old George Vonderheide of Girdwood, apparently lost control after hitting the powerline at an undetermined time. The crash site showed the plane had descended vertically, nosing into a sandbar by the river. The weight of the crash collapsed most of the fuselage and the wings. The floats were severed from the aircraft, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
“The sequence of events was that Homer Electric received news of the power outage, the HEA people went out there and picked up a beacon signal, and then they discovered the crash,” said Beth Ipsen, Alaska State Trooper spokesperson.
The crews saw the plane in shallow water near the mouth of the Wosnesenki River, a remote river that is crossed in hiking the China Poot Trail.
Troopers were able to fly out with HEA crews on the same day to investigate the accident. At this time, they are not releasing any other information, Ipsen said, as the investigation continues.
HEA sent out a notice that the subsequent power outage impacted homes on the south side of Kachemak Bay, from Big Tutka Bay to Halibut Cove. About 20 homes were without power most of the day on Saturday, but all were reportly restored by Sunday morning.
“The outage was necessary in order for Homer Electric crews to make repairs to the power line which was damaged in an incident that occurred near McKeon Flats on Friday,” HEA spokesperson Joe Gallagher wrote in a press release. He did not mention the plane crash and referred all questions on the fatality to the troopers.
“The damage to the line and structures in the area is significant,” Gallagher said. HEA was able to provide power to the communities of Nanwalek, Port Graham, and Seldovia via the Willard Generation Plant in Seldovia.
The plane apparently hit a power line that crossed the river valley. Ipsen could not estimate the time of when the crash happened. Saturday’s rainy, foggy weather left a low cloud ceiling.
Larry Lewis, a safety inspector with the National Transportation Safety Board, said the plane, a single-engine Bellanca on floats, was located nosed into a sandbar adjacent to the river.
“Certainly the big thing we’ll look at is the weather. The powerlines are on the navigation sectional charts, so it’s something he should be aware of but we’re not sure of his familiarity with the area, whether he had been in the area before,” Lewis said. “We’ll look at the visibility and winds, and also look at powerlines to see if they were appropriately marked.”
The powerlines hold orange navigational balls intended to mark them well. “But what you’re able to see from the air is part of it too. He was headed toward a lake up river but I haven’t been able to confirm that yet. We’ll be taking a look at any of the scenarios about whether the problem would be with the airplane itself. We’ll look at the pilot, his familiarity, his currency. We’ll look at everything,” Lewis said.
He also will look at whether the regulations for marking the powerlines are being followed.
“There were large orange marking balls still standing and a broken ball on the ground from where the line was knocked down. A few (power) poles were displaced, but weren’t knocked over,” Lewis said.
Lewis was uncertain whether the pilot had filed a flight plan or alerted others of his route.
Zero fatalities on Labor Day weekend
A campaign to target statewide dangerous driving over the Labor Day weekend meant law officials were out in force and there were no highway fatalities. Of the 79 crashes investigated by troopers, eight people were injured.
Statewide, there were 81 DUI arrests, including two felony DUIs.
Of the 1,539 citations issued, 785 were issued for speeding and 71 were issued for seatbelt or other occupant restraint violations.
These focused enforcements are designed to boost public awareness regarding the dangers and potential consequences of impaired driving and the benefits of utilizing seatbelts. The Alaska State Troopers, as well as local law enforcement agencies, believe that high visibility enforcement will deter motorists from making poor driving decisions. It’s the goal of the Alaska Bureau of Highway Patrol to bring the number of fatal and major injury collisions down to zero.
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