NTSB: Witness says tribal health executive was ‘distracted’ before his helicopter disappeared over Gulf of Alaska

a yellow float in a blue ocean
This float spotted by U.S. Coast Guard searchers is believed to be from the missing helicopter piloted by former tribal health executive Andy Teuber. (U.S. Coast Guard via NTSB)

A witness who spoke with a tribal health executive before his helicopter went missing earlier this month told federal investigators that the executive was “distracted, and was not himself,” according to a preliminary report published Tuesday.

Andy Teuber, the former president of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, was alone, flying the Robinson R66 helicopter from Anchorage to Kodiak when he went missing — with his last reported location near a cluster of islands known for treacherous weather conditions.

Andy Teuber (University of Alaska)

Teuber is presumed fatally injured, and the helicopter is presumed destroyed “after it impacted ocean waters,” said the report, issued by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Teuber went missing on the same day the Anchorage Daily News published a story in which his former assistant accused him of sexual coercion and abuse. He resigned his $1.1 million-a-year job at ANTHC the previous week, just after the assistant detailed some of her accusations in a letter to the consortium’s board of directors.

The new report said Teuber contacted a pilot from a helicopter business he owned, Kodiak Helicopters, the day he went missing.

RELATED: Former Alaska tribal executive still missing after his helicopter disappeared near windswept islands

Teuber told the other pilot that “he needed the helicopter for the next few days, and he told him to cancel any previously scheduled charter flights,” according to the report.

The other pilot “added that he had brief contact with (Teuber) while unloading his personal gear from the helicopter, but that (Teuber) seemed distracted and was not himself,” the report said.

“Just before departure, (Teuber) commented to the Kodiak Helicopters pilot that he wanted to be in Kodiak, and with his family, when a local news story involving him was scheduled to publish,” the report said.

The NTSB has already said it’s weighing Teuber’s state of mind as a factor in its analysis, and has assigned a “human performance investigator” to the case.

Tuesday’s report said no Federal Aviation Administration preflight weather briefings or air traffic services were provided to Teuber.

After Teuber took off from downtown Anchorage’s Merrill Field airport, the Kodiak Helicopters pilot followed his progress using a real-time tracking system, the report said.

Some 90 minutes after Teuber’s departure, the helicopter’s data stopped recording. Its last data point came as it passed between two of the Barren Islands — an archipelago that sits between the Kenai Peninsula and Kodiak Island. The helicopter had an altitude of 394 feet, and was traveling south at 150 miles an hour, the report said.

A map of southcentral alaska with a red line from Anchorage south
Tracking data from Teuber’s helicopter shows his track from Anchorage over the Gulf of Alaska. (Image from NTSB report)

Local pilots say the Barren Islands are known for dangerous and quickly-changing weather conditions. But the NTSB report does not include weather data from Teuber’s last known location, as no witnesses responded to the agency’s plea for information.

Instead, the report includes weather information from a site some 35 miles away: Light winds, a 1,000-foot ceiling and 10 miles of visibility.

“We don’t know what the specific weather conditions were,” said Clint Johnson, the NTSB’s Alaska chief. “Anybody who knows, or was in the area or transiting through around that time, let us know — we’d love to talk to you.”

After the helicopter’s tracking data stopped recording, “inquiries were made” to see if Teuber had arrived in Kodiak. When family and friends were unable to locate the missing helicopter, they contacted authorities to initiate a search, the report said.

The U.S. Coast Guard, which searched for Teuber using helicopters and a cutter, found scant physical evidence: They spotted, but did not recover, a float believed to have come off the missing aircraft.

But Tuesday’s report said an air charter operator located more debris — parts of a float, landing skid and “fuselage structure” — in the days after the accident that were confirmed to be from Teuber’s helicopter. They were found on a beach near Afognak Island, a little more than 30 miles from the helicopter’s last reported location.

Investigators matched the float to Teuber’s helicopter using a serial number, Johnson said.

The NTSB is asking any witnesses who might have information about the conditions in the Barren Islands at the time the helicopter went missing to email witness@ntsb.gov.

Correction: This story originally misstated the month that Teuber went missing — it was earlier this month (March), not last month.

Nathaniel Herz is an Anchorage-based journalist. He's been a reporter in Alaska for a decade, and is currently reporting for Alaska Public Media. Find more of his work by subscribing to his newsletter, Northern Journal, at natherz.substack.com. Reach him at natherz@gmail.com.

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