As NTSB Arrives In Unalaska, City Officials Aim To Move Damaged Plane On Saturday

Oct 17, 2019

An NTSB investigator, photographed Friday, Oct. 18 at Unalaska's airport.
Credit Laura Kraegel/KUCB

The Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association (APIA) says mental health and counseling services are available to anyone affected by Thursday's plane crash in Unalaska. Call APIA at 581-2751 or 907-359-2743 to connect with providers and access those services.

Updated 10/18/19 at 6:20 p.m. Read the latest reporting on this story here

Unalaska's airport is still officially closed following Thursday night's PenAir plane crash. But a Ravn flight received special landing permission on Friday to bring an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

"Her intent, her goal, is to stake down the accident site," NTSB's Alaska Chief Clint Johnson told Alaska Public Media. "Recover the cockpit voice recorder. Also the flight data recorder. And get those back to Anchorage. And then our goal is to get those back to Washington D.C. as soon as humanly possible."

Other NTSB and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) investigators are still traveling to Unalaska from Washington D.C., and Johnson said they're in the early stages of the inquiry.

"We don't know what caused this accident," he said. "We are still in the very preliminary stages. We don't know if there was a mechanical issue, if there was a runway issue — we just don't know at this point right now. So we're just not going to draw any conclusions.

Meanwhile, the Alaska State Troopers have identified David Allan Oltman, 38, as the passenger who died after suffering traumatic injuries in the crash. He was vice president at BKR Construction in Washington State, and his work brought him to Unalaska on many occasions.

An effort got underway Friday, Oct. 18. to move the plane using a crane. City officials hope to reopen the nearby roads soon.
Credit Laura Kraegel/KUCB

Now, city officials said they're aiming to move the damaged plane from the intersection of Airport Beach and Ballyhoo Roads by Saturday to allow regular vehicle and shipping traffic to resume.

"Local shippers have a plan to receive inbound freight, including groceries and supplies, for delivery within the community over the weekend," said a city statement released Friday at 5 p.m.

The statement said workers have removed fuel from the plane, along with luggage that'll be returned to passengers by airline officials. They've also contained and removed an unspecified quantity of fuel that had leaked into the water.

"A crane and sling are in place to stabilize the aircraft," said the statement. "Once the aircraft is removed from the roadway and tideland area, vehicle and truck traffic will resume and the runway is expected to be reopened. State Department of Transportation personnel determined the runway was not damaged in the incident."

For now, Ballyhoo Road has reopened to single-lane traffic for small passenger vehicles. No commercial vehicle traffic is allowed, and pedestrian traffic has been restricted to authorized personnel. East Point Road also remains closed from Biorka Drive to the three-way intersection near the powerhouse.

Officials said they're also working toward the resumption of regular flights.

"The city manager has been in communication with Alaska Airlines about their plans to clear the backlog of passengers traveling to and from Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, as well as the airline's future plans to provide air service to Unalaska," said the statement. "We understand the importance of air travel for this island community and will work to provide the most accurate and timely information."

While Unalaskans wait on the island's travel status, Cordova's swim team flew home early on Friday afternoon aboard Ravn's Dash 8 plane that brought the investigator.

City and school officials said the visiting students' families were eager to see them after the crash, so Ravn offered the flight to take them back to Cordova — or to Anchorage, in the case of at least one student who wanted further medical care.

In her capacity as a coach, Erin Reinders said Unalaska's team was still planning to proceed with Friday's scheduled meet at 7 p.m., especially as it was billed as "senior night" for students Kayla Villamor and Sasha Rankin. She said community members were invited to participate and race against the Raiders.

KUCB will continue reporting on the PenAir plane crash and its aftermath. Please check for updates.

A Ravn plane, photographed Friday, Oct. 18 at Unalaska's airport. It received special landing permission to bring an NTSB investigator to the island before departing with Cordova's swim team.
Credit Laura Kraegel/KUCB

Updated 10/18/19 at 9:13 a.m. 

One passenger has died after suffering traumatic injuries in Thursday's PenAir plane crash at the Unalaska airport. Another has been medevaced to Anchorage for further treatment.

The Department of Public Safety released those details Friday morning, without including names.

"The Unalaska Fire Department transported seven patients to the Iliuliuk Clinic and four other patients were brought to the clinic by personal vehicle," said the 8:06 a.m. statement. "Patient injuries ranged from minor to critical. Of the patients transported to the clinic, one was medevaced to Anchorage, and one died of traumatic injuries suffered in the crash. Next of kin has been notified."

Public Safety officials said they've secured the scene of crash, near the intersection of Airport Beach and Ballyhoo Roads, pending the arrival of National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators, who are expected to arrive as early as Friday.

"The runway and vehicle traffic through the area is shut down until further notice," said the statement. "Access to Ballyhoo Road is closed and transportation is being coordinated through Unalaska Public Safety. The aircraft may still pose safety risks, so the public is asked to stay away from the area."

The department said emergency responders arrived on the scene Thursday night "within five minutes of the event. Unalaska units set up incident command with state assets to manage the incident and assess life and safety issues. Once all safety concerns were identified and mitigated, EMS personnel extracted one patient from the aircraft and completed the evacuation of the remaining passengers."

All 42 people onboard the plant were accounted for, said local and NTSB officials, as well as PenAir. There were 39 passengers, including one infant on a parent's lap, two pilots, and one crew member.

The airport remains closed indefinitely. 

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

The scene of the PenAir plane crash near Unalaska's airport, photographed on the evening of Thursday, Oct. 17.
Credit Megan Thomson-Dean

Updated 10/18/19 at 7:55 a.m.

Two passengers were critically injured — and 10 others received some level of medical attention — after a PenAir airplane arriving from Anchorage went off the end of the runway at Unalaska's airport on Thursday evening, according to PenAir officials.

"PenAir Flight 3286 (marketed by Alaska Airlines) departed Anchorage for Dutch Harbor and upon landing at approximately 5:40 p.m. went off the end of the runway," said a PenAir statement released Thursday around 11 p.m. "We have been informed that two passengers were critically injured and ten others are receiving medical care in Unalaska. All others passengers are being cared for."

The runway at Unalaska's airport, photographed from Mount Ballyhoo in 2017. PenAir's evening flight on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019 went off the east end of the runway, to the left side of the photograph.
Credit Berett Wilber/KUCB

As of early Friday morning, airline and city officials had released no further information about the injuries — or whether there were any fatalties. 

The most recent update came from Unalaska's Department of Public Safety in a community announcement around 7:50 a.m.

"Vehicle traffic is closed from Terminal Way to Delta Way and on Ballyhoo Road at Tundra Drive. Additional information will be forthcoming shortly," said the statement. "Pedestrian traffic is all that is allowed at this time."

There were 39 passengers, two pilots, and one crew member on the flight, according to Public Safety officials. 

"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," said PenAir CEO Dave Pflieger in the Thursday night statement. 

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."

NTSB spokesperson Keith Holloway confirmed the inquiry in an email, sharing a Twitter post by the agency: "NTSB sending team of 9 to Unalaska, AK to investigate Oct. 17, 2019, accident involving Peninsula Air #3296, Saab SB20, that overran runway on landing."

"The team's exact arrival [date] is unknown at this time," added Holloway.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) accident investigators will work jointly with the NTSB, according to FAA spokesperson Allen Kenitzer.

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."

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates. 

-- -- -- Earlier story, updated at 10/17/19 at 10:50 p.m. -- -- -- 

Multiple passenger injuries were reported after a PenAir airplane arriving from Anchorage went off the runway at Unalaska's airport on Thursday evening.

The extent of those injuries was unclear, as was the reason the Saab 2000 did not stop at the end of the runway.

As police officers, fire personnel, and emergency medical service providers responded to the scene, Interim Police Chief John Lucking declined to answer questions while the response was underway. But when Mayor Frank Kelty asked him if there were any casualties, Lucking said "no" shortly after 6 p.m.

An ambulance was seen leaving the airport for the clinic with its lights flashing at 6 p.m. Then, between 6 and 6:40 p.m., three more people were taken out of the airport on stretchers and away in ambulances. All three of those people were conscious and sitting upright, with at least one holding an ice pack.

City Manager Erin Reinders was at the airport when the Thursday evening flight arrived, carrying 39 passengers, two pilots, and one crew member. 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."

The nose of PenAir's Saab 2000 airplane, photographed Thursday, Oct. 17 near the intersection of Airport Beach and Ballyhoo Roads.
Credit Laura Kraegel/KUCB

While the plane appeared to slow down as it traveled the length of the runway, it didn't come to a stop until its nose tipped over the edge of a rocky embankment just above the waters of Iliuliuk Bay, near the intersection of Airport Beach and Ballyhoo Roads. 

"I don't know if it was coming [too] fast or if it wasn't able to brake or if there was a gust," said Reinders. "That stuff — it wasn't readily apparent."

Reinders said all passengers and airline crew on the flight manifest were accounted for, according to a report by first responders.

As a coach for Unalaska's school swim team and leader at the United Methodist Church, Reinders was at the airport to welcome the flight, which brought Cordova's swim team for a meet, as well as speaker Heath Day, who's scheduled to lead a teen workshop at the church on Saturday.

She said responders had confirmed that Day and all of the visiting students and chaperones were physically safe, though shaken. 

A spokesperson for PenAir and Ravn Air Group, which bought PenAir in 2018, declined to comment when reached by phone on Thursday around 9:10 p.m.

"We don't have anything to release at this time," said spokesperson Debbie Reinwand. "I'm working with the Ravn emergency operations center right now."

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating what happened.

"We are currently gathering information about the accident and should have more information [in the] morning," said NTSB spokesperson Keith Holloway in an email around 10:30 p.m.

A spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Administration did not immediately respond to KUCB's request for comment on Thursday night.

Meanwhile, three passengers on the flight told KUCB that there was intense turbulence as they approached Unalaska and that the plane seemed to be moving very fast. Asked if the pilots made any announcements at that time, one passenger said they did not.

Kelty said he saw the pilots apparently unharmed and outside of the airport after the landing. He said they went to the police station to give interviews to the authorities.

A photograph taken by Unalaska resident Megan Thomson-Dean (above) showed a LifeMed Alaska medevac flight arriving at the airport after the landing. It's unclear if anyone on the PenAir flight has been medevaced off the island.

The extent of damage to the PenAir plane is also unclear. Some photographs circulating on social media showed an apparent dent and broken window on the Saab 2000's left side.

Unalaska's Department of Public Safety announced the closure of roads near the plane in an announcement released at 6:09 p.m. The notice asked the community to avoid the area along Airport Beach Road between Delta Way and Tundra Drive. 

The department also asked the community to avoid using cell phones while the response was underway.

"Public Safety is currently responding to an emergent incident and phone lines need to be cleared during such," said another announcement released at 5:24 p.m. "We ask for your cooperation during this time."

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.