NTSB finds bad communication, weather in fatal 2020 Yute Commuter crash near Tuntutuliak

tuntutuliak alaska
Tuntutuliak, Alaska (Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

The National Transportation Safety Board found that “inadequate operational control procedures” were to blame for a 2020 Yute Commuter Services plane crash that killed five people near Tuntutuliak in Southwest Alaska. The recently released report found that the pilot likely faced white-out or low visibility conditions that caused him to crash.

The flight was the pilot’s fourth non-training flight for the regional airline. He had begun training with Paklook Air, the company that owns YCS, only a month before, according to the report.

In an interview with NTSB investigators, YCS’ general manager said that new pilots are usually subject to limitations on when they can fly. But the board found that there was no procedure for communicating those conditions to dispatchers, which is likely how the new pilot, 34-year-old Tony Matthews, ended up flying in low visibility conditions on Feb. 7, 2020.

At the time when Matthews departed from Bethel bound for Kipnuk, visibility was about one-and-a-quarter miles and there was an overcast ceiling of about 600 feet. That overcast ceiling dropped as time went on; in the hour after the crash, airports reported overcast ceilings of closer to 400 feet, according to the report.

The general manager stated that a 1,000-foot ceiling and 5 miles of visibility would be “more appropriate” weather conditions for a new pilot.

Investigators also weren’t able to locate a risk assessment form for the flight. That’s a form meant to be filled out by the pilot and reviewed by a coordinator to determine whether weather conditions are safe for flying.

YCS told KYUK in 2020 that they added more restrictions after the crash. They said then that new pilots would have to spend more hours with an instructor going forward, and that they’ve increased their cloud ceiling requirement.

The pilot and four passengers died in the crash. All four passengers were Kipnuk residents.

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