FAA investigated safety of Cape Smythe Air Service

Posted: Thursday, September 21, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The company that operated the plane involved in a fatal crash in Nuiqsut Monday was the subject of an in-depth safety investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration earlier this year.

The probe of Cape Smythe Air Service followed two crashes of the carrier's planes in February that resulted in injuries.

The crash in Nuiqsut Monday left four people dead and six injured.

Among the FAA's preliminary findings from its investigation was an apparent trend in Cape Smythe accidents: They involved turbo-charged Piper Navajos operated by a single pilot, FAA official Hugh McLaughlin said Wednesday.

''Cape Smythe has had an inordinate amount of accidents occurring with these aircraft,'' McLaughlin told the Anchorage Daily News.

The fatal accident Monday involved the same type of plane, operated by a single pilot. The same aircraft was involved in at least two other incidents within the year, according to FAA records.

McLaughlin, assistant manager of the FAA's Fairbanks district, said the agency would not release its report without a formal written request. The report made about 11 safety recommendations for Cape Smythe, he said, but he would not say what they were.

Grant Thompson, president of Cape Smythe Air, would not release a copy of the report or discuss its contents.

Monday's crash was the fifth mishap involving a Cape Smythe aircraft in less than a year, the ninth in the past five years and 12th in the past decade. Only Monday's was fatal.

Thompson also would not comment on his company's recent accident record. The carrier tries to be safe, he said.

''Every time we have an accident, we try to critique it as to why it happened and what to do to prevent it,'' Thompson said from his office in Barrow.

''I'm only human,'' he said. ''I try to do everything I can to prevent them.''

In Monday's crash, pilot Lee Jason Ostendorf touched down on the gravel runway without the plane's landing gear deployed, according to survivors of the crash and witnesses at the airport.

After the Piper scraped ground, it began climbing again, and the wheels dropped, witnesses said. But the plane abruptly banked sharply left and dove into the tundra near the runway.

On Jan. 25, Cape Smythe pilot Vic Olesen landed the same plane after forgetting to lower his landing gear. The plane slid smoothly along the ice on its belly. Olesen had two young girls aboard as passengers, but no one was injured, nor did the plane sustain any structural damage.

On Feb. 9, one of the carrier's three turboprop Pipers was damaged during a landing at Wales, and the pilot and a passenger were seriously hurt. Less than two weeks later, another Piper struck pack ice in the sea west of Kotzebue, injuring the pilot.

That set off the FAA probe, McLaughlin said.

Thompson said the Piper 1040 is certified for a single pilot, but ''common sense tells you that two sets of eyes are better than one.''

The National Transportation Safety Board is continuing its investigation of the Nuiqsut crash.

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