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NTSB: First report on fatal plane crash to be published Friday

Posted: August 8, 2012 - 11:09pm

The National Transportation Safety Board says a preliminary report on the fatal Air Excursions plane crash near Juneau last week is slated to be published online Friday.

The final report with the probable cause of the crash won’t be complete for another nine months to a year, says the NTSB air safety investigator assigned to the case, Larry Lewis.

But periodic reports will be published on the NTSB website in the meantime as they are completed, Lewis said in a phone interview from Anchorage.

Air Excursions pilot Kevin Murray, 56, of Chelan, Wash., was killed during a flight from Juneau to Gustavus last Thursday during adverse weather conditions.

Troopers said earlier they found his remains and the wreckage that afternoon on the hillside of Howard Bay near Point Howard, about 23 miles west of Juneau. He was the only person reported aboard the aircraft.

The cause of death and the cause of crash are unknown, and both the Federal Aviation Administration and NTSB are conducting parallel investigations.

The FAA is a regulatory agency under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Transportation that is investigating the crash to ensure there were no regulatory issues, especially since this was a commercial aircraft for Air Excursions. Air Excursions has offices in Juneau and offers flight-seeing tours of Southeast Alaska as well as scheduled service from Juneau to Gustavus, Hoonah, Haines, Skagway and Kake.

The NTSB is an independent government agency that answers to the U.S. Congress. It investigates every civil aviation accident in the U.S. and also has the authority to cite the FAA for regulatory issues.

Lewis says the first NTSB preliminary report to be published at the end of the week will just have “very basic” information about the crash, such as the date, time and type of flight. That preliminary report is usually published within five days of any crash that involve a fatality, although that was delayed in this case.

Once that is published, the NTSB will begin a thorough fact finding investigation, portions of which will be posted online as completed.

Lewis says right now he’s in the process of ordering paperwork, such as autopsy results, medical records, airman and aircraft certification records, weather conditions report, air traffic control communications and radar and GPS plots.

The State Examiner Medical Office conducted and completed the mandatory autopsy this week, but isn’t allowed to release its findings since that’s privileged health information, said spokesman Greg Wilkinson.

Lewis says the results won’t be known for another three to four weeks since tissue samples will additionally be sent to the FAA Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI) in Oklahoma City for an extensive toxicology screening.

An autopsy is a routine protocol that is required for any pilot who dies in a plane accident.

The factual portion of the preliminary report won’t available online for at least 90 days, Lewis says.

When the final report is finished, it will be sent to the NTSB in Washington, D.C. where the five-member board will sign off on the probable cause of the crash. Each year, the board receives about 2,500 accident reports, Lewis said.

The NTSB reports can be viewed online at www.ntsb.gov.

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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