Instrument data ‘another piece of the puzzle’ in fatal plane crash

The National Transportation Safety Board released a preliminary report on the fatal plane crash that occurred 18 miles west of Juneau on July 17.

Wings of Alaska flight 202 crashed into a mountain about 15 minutes after departing Juneau on its way to Hoonah, killing the pilot Fariah Peterson. All four passengers survived.

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Chris Shaver is the NTSB investigator in charge. He says there were no reported problems at takeoff.

“In the only communication that the pilot had with air traffic control, which would’ve been at takeoff, she didn’t relay any issues,” Shaver says.

The plane is certified to fly under visual flight rules, which means it has to stay out of the clouds and maintain a visual reference with the ground for navigation. Shaver says weather conditions at the Juneau and Hoonah airports at the time fit visual flight rules. To determine what conditions were like in between, he says he’s pulled images from seven weather cameras.

Shaver says the plane’s electronic system had a feature that gives visual and audio warnings if the aircraft is approaching terrain. The plane split in two when it hit a large spruce tree at an elevation of about 1,300 feet above sea level.

“Where the separation happened probably played some factor in the survivability of the passengers,” Shaver says.

The engine is being sent to Anchorage for further inspection and the plane’s visual display units are being sent to NTSB headquarters in Washington, D.C. A chip inside the display units will hopefully offer flight data, like air speed and altitude.

“We hope that we’ll get data all the way up until 1 to 2 seconds before the accident,” Shaver says. “It’s not going to answer the question of why did something happen, but it’s going to give us a much clearer picture of what exactly happened, at least, with the flight path of the airplane. So it’s another piece of the puzzle.”

Shaver says the final report determining probable cause of the Wings of Alaska crash won’t come out for another 12 to 18 months.

Lisa Phu is a reporter at KTOO in Juneau.

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