With flights expected to resume in Unalaska, shaken crash survivors contemplate getting back on a plane

Workers at the site of the PenAir plane crash in Unalaska in October 2019. ( Heath Day/KUCB)

Cranes lifted the plane on Saturday afternoon from a rocky bank just above Iliuliuk Bay. That’s where it came to a stop when it overran Unalaska’s runway while arriving from Anchorage, a crash that left one person dead and at least 10 injured. Passenger flights, which have been mostly grounded, are expected to resume this week.

Related: PenAir Plane crashes in Unalaska; one person is dead, others critically injured

William Dushkin was one of dozens of people who came out to watch as the damaged aircraft was moved onto a barge and out of the way. He says he and his family are from Atka, a far-west Aleutian community that flies through Unalaska as hub. 

“They’re doing well. The mother had an injured knee but she’s doing well. No broken bones,” he said.”The girl definitely was pretty scared. The mother is having a tough time with it.”

Dushkin says they’re all looking forward to going home when commercial flights resume, though getting back on a plane will be a little nerve-wracking.

Related: Passenger on Unalaska flight recounts crash landing: ‘He’s not going to stop — we’re going into the water’

Heath Day was another passenger in the accident — and thinks he’ll be okay when the time comes to fly back home to Anchorage. He’s been especially tired since the crash, but he says he’s feeling pretty 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. But I’m not opposed continuing to fly and to travel and continuing to live life,” he said.

Day suffered a six-inch gash to his leg when he evacuated the plane. He says a last-minute seat change before the flight may have saved him from more serious injuries. Before he was re-seated for weight and balance, Day was slated to sit in the third row, about where a propeller blade broke through the cabin.

“My situation and outcome might have been completely different had I been still in that seat. I’m just thankful for where I’m at today. Learned more today of the details of the man who passed away. Same age as me. Had a wife, kids. And that all made it hit a little closer to home.”

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

While 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 says that’s especially important for first responders, many of whom worked on another difficult response in May, when a truck plunged off Mount Ballyhoo, killing 2 local teenagers.

“Reflecting on this past year, it’s been a challenging time. 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,” she said.

The investigation into the cause of the plane crash could take a year or longer. Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board are on the island now.

This story has been corrected. William Dushkin was not on the flight when it crashed. Only his family was on the flight.

Laura Kraegel covers Unalaska and the Aleutian Islands for KUCB . Originally from Chicago, she first came to Alaska to work at KNOM, reporting on Nome and the Bering Strait Region. (laura@kucb.org / 907.581.6700)

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