Plane almost flips on Bethel airstrip

Posted: Friday, March 29, 2002

BETHEL (AP) -- Myron Naneng had a gut feeling the Grant Aviation Navajo airplane was going to hit turbulence from the Northern Air Cargo jet that had just landed on the Bethel airstrip.

As the plane dipped to the right at a 95-degree angle toward the hangars, the other six passengers on board screamed. Naneng knew his instincts were right.

At the same time, Naneng's nephew, Joe Joe Prince, looked up from the plane he was loading on the side of the runway. The Grant plane was coming in, close to the ground, seemingly headed toward him.

''I pretty much just started running,'' Prince said. ''I didn't know which way to run. My survival instinct kicked in and just told me to run.''

In the March 22 incident, the Grant pilot compensated by angling the plane to the left and the plane touched down safely. The people on board, and those on the ground, began to breathe easier.

''If he would have panicked, we wouldn't have been around to tell the story,'' Naneng said.

''The pilot did a real good job getting control of it again,'' Prince said. ''He saved everybody on the plane.''

The passengers, who had begun their journey in Hooper Bay, were shaken as they filed into the station. The incident and an earlier mishap have raised concerns about safety procedures.

''I'm not a pilot, but I have flown on helicopters and all different kinds of airplanes,'' Naneng said. ''I know you should give quite a bit of distance and clearance with a jet like that, especially with a slight breeze. It takes a bit of time for the jet wake to dissipate.''

This is not the first time such an incident has been reported at the Bethel Airport.

Another Grant plane landed in the wake of turbulence from an Alaska Airlines jet March 8. In a letter published March 21 in The Tundra Drums, Mike Ripke of Napaskiak said his wife and children were passengers on the single-engine plane involved in the mishap.

''My wife told me that it felt as if the turbulence from the jet plume had caused the Grant plane to complete a 360-degree barrel roll two or three times,'' Rikpke wrote. The pilot gained control of the plane and landed safely, he said in the letter.

''My concern is with the procedure for directing incoming and outgoing planes at the Bethel airport,'' Ripke wrote. ''What if different conditions occur in the same kind of scenario I described between the landing Grant airplane and the departing Alaska Airlines jet? The pilots and passengers may not be so lucky the next time.''

Representatives of Grant Aviation acknowledged both incidents occurred.

''In the 10 years I've been working out there nothing like that has ever happened to one of our planes before,'' said Bruce McGlasson, president of Grant. ''Then in one month, it happened twice. It kind of gets your attention.''

Pilots radio the Federal Aviation Administration control tower for clearance when they are about 10 miles out before landing. There are different procedures for each type of airplane. A 727 jet should be completely off the runway before a Navajo is given clearance to land, according to Dave Michalko, manager of the tower in Bethel.

McGlasson said the control tower gave the pilot clearance to land. ''We would never land without clearance,'' he said.

Michalko acknowledged that the March 22 incident occurred, but he declined to comment, citing FAA policy. Representatives of the FAA headquarters in Tennessee also declined comment.

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