ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The National Transportation Safety Board determined the plane crash last summer that killed a well-known pilot and three park rangers was caused by the pilot's decision to fly into bad weather. The plane broke up in mid-air.
The final report, released Wednesday, said Don Bowers, chief pilot for Hudson Air Service, left Talkeetna on the afternoon of June 19 in a ski-equipped Cessna 185 with National Park Service Cale Schaffer and volunteer rangers Brian Paul Reagan and Adam Kolff. Bowers was taking the three men to the glacier airstrip and mountaineering base camp on the southeast fork of the Kahiltna Glacier to begin a routine patrol on Mount McKinley's West Buttress climbing route.
Bowers was advised when he departed from Talkeetna that the mountain was obscured by low clouds and that turbulence was reported in the area, the NTSB said. Variable weather conditions at base camp made landings there problematic during the day, the report said.
Glacier pilots headed for the 7,200-foot base camp often check with the camp manager to obtain local weather information.
The camp manager told an NTSB investigator that Bowers did not call. If he had, she would have advised him not to go in, the report said.
A Hudson Air Service official disputes that and says Bowers did call ahead, the report said.
About 45 minutes into the flight, Bowers talked to a pilot at the Kahiltna base camp by radio and learned that the upper area of the glacier was closed because of low clouds, the report said. Bowers later reported to the pilot that weather had closed in on the lower portion of the glacier and that he was headed west toward Lacuna Glacier. Schaffer radioed the Talkeetna ranger station and said the plane was headed back to Talkeetna.
After an extensive search, the plane was located the next afternoon on a hillside above the Yentna Glacier, 52 miles northwest of Talkeetna.
Investigators later found ''that both wings separated from the fuselage in a downward direction,'' the report said. A lodge near the accident site reported severe weather at the time of the crash, including a large wall of cumulus clouds, rain and hail, the report said.
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