NTSB investigates midair collision over Katmai National Park

Katmai National Park is famous for bear watching and because it’s off the road system, most people get to the park via planes. (Brian Venua/KMXT)

A de Havilland Beaver operated by Alaska’s Enchanted Lake Lodge Inc. and a Bell 206L-4 helicopter operated by Maritime Helicopters collided in mid-air over Katmai National Park during the Labor Day weekend. The plane’s pilot and passengers reported no injuries, but the helicopter’s pilot was injured in the crash.

The accident took place at about 4:30 p.m. on Monday, near Lake Coville in a northern area of Katmai National Park and Preserve.

“It was struck in the tail rotor section over there, the back of the helicopter basically was damaged,” said Clint Johnson, the National Transportation Safety Board’s Alaska region chief. “The airplane was able to make an emergency landing in a nearby creek and the helicopter descended uncontrollably into an area of tundra and tree-covered terrain.” 

The helicopter pilot was able to walk away from the incident, however he was still brought to Anchorage for further medical examination. 

Katmai National Park doesn’t have an air traffic control tower to coordinate take-offs and landings. Mark Sturm, the park’s superintendent, said pilots usually communicate over radios to prevent collisions like this one. 

“Pilots that come into the park essentially are in touch with each other and try to manage the traffic locally by talking to each other about how they’re approaching, what they’re doing, and being in contact with planes on the ground,” Sturm said. “But obviously, in this case, these two aircraft were not in communication and the accident happened as a consequence.” 

The vehicles were about 1,000 feet above ground when they collided, according to preliminary information. Johnson, with the NTSB, says investigators are still talking to both pilots. 

“What we’re trying to do now is trying to figure out how these two airplanes came together – ultimately determine if each one of the pilots were able to see each other and the circumstances that led up to it,” he said. 

Johnson says a preliminary report is expected later this month.

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