5 passengers sue Yute Commuter Service over 2022 plane crash near Bethel

a plane crashed on the tundra
A Cessna 207 operated by Yute Commuter Service is seen on the tundra where it crashed near Bethel in November 2022. (National Transportation Safety Board)

Five of the six passengers aboard a Yute Commuter Service flight that crash-landed near Bethel in November 2022 are now suing the company for damages related to emotional suffering.

The civil suit is being brought against Paklook Air, the company that owns Yute Commuter Service. The five plaintiffs, represented by Anchorage attorney David Henderson, are requesting compensatory damages in excess of $100,000 each, as well as punitive damages for the operator’s “pattern and practice and history of prior operational failures.”

According to a National Transportation Safety Board investigation, on Nov. 20, 2022, a Cessna 207 operated by Yute Commuter Service returning to Bethel from Goodnews Bay experienced a loss of engine power around 10 miles south of its destination. The pilot made a forced landing on the frozen tundra, and according to Alaska State Troopers, none of the plane’s passengers reported any injuries at the time of the accident.

Yute Commuter Service was able to successfully coordinate a rescue of the passengers and pilot from a frozen lake near the crash site within about an hour, according to Robert Rey, the company’s safety and compliance manager.

The NTSB determined the probable cause of the crash to be a total loss of engine power due to the pilot’s mismanagement of the available fuel.

Yute Commuter Service has seen a string of accidents in recent years. In April 2019, a Piper PA-32-300 crashed about 25 miles northeast of Bethel’s airport, with no reported injuries for the pilot and three passengers on board. In November of that same year, no injuries were reported when another PA-32-300 with a pilot and trainee on board crashed into a river shortly after taking off from Goodnews Bay.

In February 2020, a Piper PA-32R operated by Yute Commuter Service crashed near Tuntutuliak, killing the pilot and four passengers on board. According to the NTSB, the probable cause was the pilot’s decision to fly in what may have been whiteout conditions, with inadequate operational control procedures contributing to the accident.

Yute Commuter Service declined to comment on the lawsuit, which is currently in the process of reassignment to another judge in Bethel Superior Court, according to state records.

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