Thursday, October 19, 2006

Accident of the Week

This week's Accident of the Week takes us to the remote Alaskan community of Tuntutuliak (identifier: A61). Here's another free geography lesson from The IFR Pilot: Tuntutuliak is located in southwestern Alaska, not far from Bethel:

As you will see in the report, this accident could have been avoided:

NTSB Identification: ANC07LA003
Nonscheduled 14 CFR Part 135: Air Taxi & Commuter
Accident occurred Friday, October 13, 2006 in Tuntutuliak, AK
Aircraft: Cessna 207, registration: N7336U
Injuries: 1 Minor.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed.

On October 13, 2006, about 1512 Alaska daylight time, a wheel-equipped Cessna 207 airplane, N7336U, sustained substantial damage when it collided with the edge of a river embankment during the landing approach at the Tuntutuliak Airport, Tuntutuliak, Alaska. The airplane was being operated as a visual flight rules (VFR) cross-country non-scheduled cargo flight under Title 14, CFR Part 135, when the accident occurred. The airplane was operated by Flight Alaska Inc., d.b.a. Yute Air Alaska, Anchorage, Alaska. The commercial certificated pilot, the sole occupant, received minor injuries. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed in the area of the accident. VFR company flight following procedures were in effect. The flight originated at the Bethel Airport, Bethel, Alaska, about 1443.

During a telephone conversation with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator-in-charge (IIC), on October 16, the director of operations for the operator reported that he interviewed several witnesses to the accident, and learned that the pilot was attempting to land on runway 20 at Tuntutuliak. The gravel surface runway is 1,772 long and 28 feet wide. The approach end of the runway is located at the edge of a river. The director of operations said the weather conditions in the area had been good VFR, but as the pilot was attempting to land, rain and mist moved over the area, reducing the visibility to about 1/4 mile. The airplane collided with the river embankment as the pilot was on his fourth landing attempt. The airplane received structural damage to the landing gear, fuselage and wings, and came to rest about 40 degrees to the left of the runway. The director of operations indicated that within 30 minutes of the accident, the weather conditions were once again VFR
By simply holding over the airport for 30 minutes, this pilot could have landed in VFR conditions instead of 1/4 mile visibility on his/her fourth attempt. Perhaps fuel was a concern, although the airplane had only been airborne for about 29 minutes at the time of the accident. (Bethel, the departure airport, is 36 miles northeast of Tuntutuliak.)

The pilot faced the additional challenge of a runway that is literally squeezed in between river banks. Here's the USGS topographic map showing the runway location:

Unfortunately, the Google Maps image of that location doesn't show much detail, but it gives you an idea:

There are numerous safety articles out there that caution against repeated approaches to the same airport. In other parts of Alaska, diverting to another airport might not be a realistic option. Here, the departure airport was only 36 miles away. reports that there are 4 other airports within about 50 NM.

Why try to force a square peg into a round hole? Either hold, or divert. This is one of those needless accidents.


Neil said...

Sure makes you wonder.

I recall as a student returning to my home field, where the runway is lined with tall trees one the west side. The wind was blowing from the east, and was pushing me towards the treeline while I attempted to land. I ended up going around, and landing at a nearby county airport with large runways and no obstructions. When I returned to my airport the following weekend, a flight instructor (not mine) and airline pilot approached me and said I should have at least tried one more time. That You give it one more shot before diverting. I replied that while I might have been lucky enough on a 2nd approach to land safely, I made the decision based on my 1st approach that I wasnt ready to attempt the landing, felt it unsafe with the strong crosswind and trees, and that diverting was a call I made half way through my go around. It still seems like I made the right choice to me to this day, but this instructor just shook his head and acted as if id done something very wrong.
Later I learned he had the plane I was flying scheduled with a student, and that explained why he had been peeved, but do you really tell a student he should have attempted a 2nd approach to an airport under condidtions the student already had concluded were, if not unsafe, certainly over his head...?

Eh, ramble over. But this story reminded me of that....

Anonymous said...

Based on your profile, commenting on an incident/accident involving 135 ops on the Y-K Delta is in poor form. If you want to post facts, fine. But why not leave the coulda-shoulda speculation out of it.

I have hundreds of hours in the accident a/c and about 100 landings at Tunt, sometimes in very poor visibility or with howling crosswinds. And even with my perspective, I refuse to second-guess the pilot. You weren't there, you don't know the circumstances, and I would suggest you stick to commenting on accidents/incidents involving flying which more closely resembles your knowledge base.

Paul S. said...

Sounds to me like a case of "profit before safety"