Downed aircraft must be moved without damaging fragile terrain

Refuge: It’s just plane stuck

Posted: Friday, September 08, 2006


  A Mavrik Aire de Havilland DHC3 Otter sits on the tundra where it made an emergency landing Aug. 22. Photo by M. Scott Moon

A Mavrik Aire de Havilland DHC3 Otter sits on the tundra where it made an emergency landing Aug. 22.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

A single-engine De Havilland Otter DHC-3 that emergency landed on Kenai National Wildlife Refuge wetlands more than two weeks ago remains waiting among the moose and the birds while its owners and refuge officials puzzle over how to remove it.

Because of its size and the terrain it’s stuck in, the plane could continue to wait until the snow flies, said Rick Johnston, a park ranger and pilot with the refuge.

“It could be out there for a while, because basically it’s just sitting there out in the swamp,” he said. “It’s not easy to have a floatplane sitting out there on the vegetation.”

The plane landed on the refuge approximately 6 miles northeast of the Kenai Municipal Airport on Aug. 22 after it lost power, forcing the pilot to make an emergency landing, said Joette Storm, a Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman in Alaska.

If the plane were, for example, a small four-seat plane, a second aircraft might be able to remove the plane as is, but the fixed wing, single-engine plane is likely too heavy for any locally available aircraft to remove.

“There probably isn’t anything in the state that will lift this kind of a plane out,” Johnston said. “So here they are with this plane that is intact and not very damaged out there where they don’t want it. It’s a tough situation to be in.”

Maverick Aire and Alaska Extreme have come forward claiming the plane and received a tentative salvage and removal permit, pending an approved removal plan and proof of ownership, he said.

The owners must first obtain the salvage and removal permit to ensure the plane will be removed safely and the removal will do as little environmental damage as possible. While options are limited, Johnston said he expects the plane will be removed eventually.

“They are required to remove it unless it’s totally unfeasible,” he said.”(And) there’s only three ways off there; they’re going to fly it off before there’s snow, they’ll fly it off after there’s snow, or they’re going to take it off in pieces of lesser weight.”

In some cases, planes stuck in wilderness areas have been left as permanent artifacts rather than removed. But a decision to leave a plane is only made when the environmental damage created by the removal would be greater than the damage created by leaving the plane, or removal is unfeasible.

“There’s those kind of planes all over Alaska,” Johnston said. “A good example is when a plane sinks in a 1,000-foot-deep lake.”

Because the plane is so valuable and the damage to the plane minimal, it’s unlikely the refuge will have to nudge the owners to get it removed, he said.

“There’s an economic incentive to get it out of there, so I’m not too worried about them just leaving a crash mess there,” Johnston said. “But also my concern would be that they fly it out as safely as possible, and that they do it without damaging the environment.”

As of right now, flying the plane out using the soggy vegetation as a runway appears unlikely, he said.

The second and third options, flying the plane out on snow using the floats as skis, or removing the plane piece by piece may be be more likely, he said.

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