Local helicopter pilot dies in Iliamna crash

William Zeman, 66, was the only person on board

ANCHORAGE — The man killed in a helicopter crash outside a rural Southwest Alaska village was a resident of Douglas and a senior pilot for Era Helicopters LLC.

Alaska State Troopers said Monday 66-year-old William Zeman was at the controls of the helicopter Saturday night when it crashed six miles southwest of Iliamna. Zeman was the only person on board.

The helicopter had been used for seismic work in Nome and was making a two-day trip back to Anchorage.

Clint Johnson, senior air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, said Monday he was on a “weather hold” but planned to leave Tuesday to investigate the cause of the crash.

The helicopter left Nome on Saturday, flew south and made refueling stops in Unalakleet and Bethel. It then flew east toward Iliamna, a village of just more than 100 residents on the northwest side of Iliamna Lake about 225 miles southwest of Anchorage.

“That was where he was going to spend the night,” Johnson said.

Era’s GPS and web-based tracking system determined the helicopter was in trouble. It received a final signal from the helicopter at 8:02 p.m., Johnson said, after nightfall.

“The last track that they have on this machine was about six miles southwest of Iliamna,” Johnson said. “That’s what helped the crew zero in on a place to look.”

Searchers from the Alaska Air National Guard’s Rescue Coordination Center looked for the helicopter Saturday night. The wreck was spotted at noon Sunday about 200 yards from the lake.

The helicopter had crashed and burned and Zeman’s body was found in the wreckage.

Investigators from the helicopter manufacturer, American Eurocopter Corp., and the engine manufacturer, Turbomeca USA, were en route to Anchorage on Monday, Johnson said, and planned to join him in flying to Iliamna on Tuesday. A helicopter was already in the village ready to take them to the crash site, he said.

Johnson was working with a Washington, D.C., meteorologist to assemble weather data for the time of the crash. He said the weather had been “up and down” outside Iliamna with visibility ranging from one mile to three miles.

“It’s very transient,” he said.

A preliminary report is typically posted on the NTSB website five days after a crash, he said.


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