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Regular Air Travel Still Suspended; Crash Survivors Contemplate Getting Back On A Plane

Laura Kraegel/KUCB

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

Commuters flights to and from Unalaska are still suspended following last week's plane crash that killed one passenger and injured at least 11 others.

While flights were tentatively set to resume on Tuesday, Alaska Airlines officials announced on Monday that they're still working on a timeline with PenAir and Ravn Air Group.

The airport's runway was not damaged in the accident, according to the state Department of Transportation. City officials said the runway has supported several charter and cargo flights since the plane was moved from the crash site over the weekend.

Cranes lifted the plane on Saturday afternoon from a rocky bank just above Iliuliuk Bay. That's where it stopped when it overran the runway while arriving from Anchorage.

"My sister-in-law and her four kids were on this plane when it crashed," said William Dushkin of Atka.

Dushkin was one of dozens of people who came out to watch as the Saab 2000 was moved onto a barge and out of the way. He said his family was flying from Anchorage to Unalaska on their way home to Atka.

"They're doing well," he said. "The mother had an injured knee, but she's doing well. No broken bones."

Still, Dushkin said they've been affected emotionally. 

"The girl definitely was pretty scared," he said. "The mother is having tough time with it."

Dushkin said the family is looking forward to getting back to Atka when commercial flights resume, though getting back on a plane may be a little nerve-wracking.

Anchorage resident Heath Day was another passenger in the accident. He said thinks he'll be fine when the time comes to fly home. While he's felt especially tired since the crash, he's feeling good emotionally.

"Next time I'm on a plane that maybe does fishtail a little bit on the landing or something, it might trigger some memories. And I won't know that until I'm in that moment," said Day. "But I'm not opposed to continuing to fly and to travel and continuing to live life."

Day suffered a six-inch gash to his leg when he evacuated the plane. He said a last-minute seat change before the flight may have saved him from more serious injuries.

Before he was reseated for weight and balance, he was slated to sit in the third row, where a propeller blade broke through the cabin during the crash. 

"My situation and outcome might have been completely different had I still been in that seat," said Day. "I'm just thankful for where I'm at today."

"I learned more of the details of the man who passed away," he continued. "Same age as me. Had a wife, kids. That all made it hit a little closer to home."

David Oltman, 38, of Wenatchee, Washington, died from injuries suffered during the crash. His work at BKR Construction brought him to Unalaska on many occasions.

Now, as the community processes the accident and awaits the results of a federal investigation, health care providers are encouraging those affected to seek counseling and support.

City Manager Erin Reinders said that's especially important for first responders, many of whom worked on another difficult response in May. A truck plunged off Mount Ballyhoo, killing two local teenagers.

On Tueday, city officials announced that police were sending that case to the state District Attorney's Office for consideration of criminal charges against the driver, Dustin Ruckman. He suffered minor injuries in the crash.

"Reflecting on this past year, it's been a challenging time," said Reinders. "I can't imagine what it would be like if we didn't have the folks that we have here being willing to offer their help."

The Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association (APIA) said mental health and counseling services are available to anyone affected by the accident. APIA providers can be reached at 581-2751 or 359-2743.

Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB) investigation into the cause of the plane crash could take a year or longer. NTSB officials are working on the island now.

Laura Kraegel reported for KUCB from 2016 until 2020. She was KUCB's news director starting in 2019. We are proud to have her back in the spring of 2023 filling in as an interim reporter for KUCB.
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