Two separate Alaska plane crashes that happened at almost the exact same time have taken the lives of four people. The crashes occurred on Saturday, May 27, at around 11:00 a.m., but happened about 600 miles apart. Four people died in total and a fifth person was injured in the tragedies. Authorities are now investigating what caused the two small planes to crash.
Alaskan Plane Crashes Near Haines and Fairbanks Kill Four, Injure One
According to officials, a Piper PA-30 crashed near Haines, Alaska, killing two people and injuring a third. The pilot, 29-year-old David Kunat, and an unidentified man both died in the crash, while 31-year-old Chan Valentine, a passenger on the plane, survived the crash and was transported to Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau for medical treatment.
“Kunat’s next of kin have been notified and attempts to locate next of kin on the passenger from California are continuing,” Alaska State Troopers noted.
A witness reportedly told investigators that the plane took off from an airstrip, but stalled after making a hard right turn shortly after takeoff.
Meanwhile, almost simultaneously, 81-year-old Sam Brice and 63-year-old Howard “Buzz” Otis died when their Arctic Aircraft S-1B2 crashed near Fairbanks.
Brice and Otis had reportedly taken a flight to check on Otis’ son, who had not returned as expected from a river trip. Although Otis’ son was fine, the plane crashed near Butte Creek on its return trip.
Family and Friends Remember the Victims
Brice was remembered by his family as a great public speaker, who often acted as the voice for the entire family and loved helping people.
“He was always there to help,” said Sam Robert Brice, nephew of the pilot. “He was asked to help and he gladly did it. It’s what he enjoyed. He loved nothing more than to go flying up the Salcha River.”
Otis was remembered for his love of the community he lived in, and his role in bringing the International Federation of Sleddog Sports 2013 Winter World Championships to North Pole.
“Buzz was a tireless advocate for the community of North Pole and the North Pole area and was always working to improve it,” said Jim Dodson, CEO of the Fairbanks Economic Development Corp. “You couldn’t say enough good things about Buzz.”
Another Small Plane Crash in Early May Took One Life
The two Alaska plane crashes on May 27 were not the first in the state this month. On Monday, May 1, 54-year-old Gabriele Cianetti died when his Cessna 208B crashed near Cignik as Cianetti was on his way from Port Heiden to Perryville. The plane crash wreckage was found at around 3,000 feet on a mountain slope.
Cianetti was on a mail flight and carrying 1,300 pounds of Priority Mail in the plane. Poor weather at the site of the crash made it difficult for authorities to recover Cianetti’s remains, as did the site’s remote location, which required helicopter access. Alaska State Troopers, the Coast Guard and the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group were all involved in recovering Cianetti’s remains, a process that was not complete until Thursday, May 4.
Cianetti Remembered by Friends and Coworkers
Cianetti flew for Grant Aviation and was based out of King Salmon. He had been flying in Alaska for five years, had experience as a bush pilot and was well liked by his colleagues.
“He liked aviation,” said Bruce McGlasson, president of Grant Aviation. “He loved flying. He just said he’d always wanted to be a pilot here in Alaska and so he was doing what he wanted to do.” McGlasson noted that Grant Aviation has a good safety record and will make any necessary changes to prevent a similar accident from happening in the future.
Cianetti had dual citizenship in the United States and Italy, and loved flying in Alaska, which is why he moved there.
NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Alaskan Plane Crash
In its preliminary report on Cianetti’s plane crash, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) noted that Cianetti initially had one passenger with him on the plane, but the passenger disembarked at the Port Heiden Airport.
“According to information and photographs provided by the recovery crew, the wreckage came to rest in deep snow at about 2,993 feet on the west face of a treeless, steep mountain in the Alaska Peninsula National Wildlife Refuge of the Aleutian Range,” the NTSB wrote. “It is located about 500 feet from the top of the mountain ridge and partially submerged in the snow on its left side with the nose section under the snow pack.”
Small Plane Safety
Although they carry far fewer passengers than commercial airlines, small planes account for a large number of all fatal aviation accidents. In April, two separate small plane crashes in the U.S. each killed four people.
General aviation accidents-a category that includes accidents involving all aircraft except commercial airlines-make up around 90 percent of all fatal aviation accidents, according to a study by the NTSB. There are many factors that can lead to a small plane crash, including more lenient pilot requirements than are found in commercial airlines, lack of safety technology, and improper maintenance of planes.