Jet hits trailer; 1 dead

No one inside home for Ketchikan crash

Posted: Thursday, January 26, 2006

KETCHIKAN - A small jet crashed into a mobile home park Wednesday, killing the pilot, who was found strapped to his seat 100 yards from the site, authorities said.

The plane hit one trailer, triggering a fire, then bounced off and hit a rock embankment. No one was inside the trailer and all residents were accounted for, said Alaska State Troopers spokesman Greg Wilkinson.

Searchers found the pilot's body across a ravine from the crash, Wilkinson said.

Witnesses saw the pilot eject from the airplane at treetop level, and his parachute deployed partially, Wilkinson said.

No other details about the victim were released pending notification of relatives.

No one else was aboard the two-seater craft, Wilkinson said. At least five people were treated for minor injuries caused by flying debris, assistant city manager David Martin said.

"It's an incredible miracle that no one on the ground was severely injured, when you look at the scene and see the major impact," Martin said. "It's a pretty developed area."

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.

The jet, which resembles a military-style fighter jet, crashed into the mobile home park behind the Alaskan & Proud Supermarket, said Mylene Nedzwecky, the front desk clerk at the Best Western Landing Hotel & Restaurant.

"We are all kind of shaken up," she said.

Kurtis Klose, who lives about 300 yards up the hill from the trailer park, said he was just sitting down to lunch when there was a crash followed by an explosion that shook his house.

"We looked out the window and there was a huge mushroom cloud and thick, black smoke," he said.

Klose ran along the street and saw a fire and smashed cars and trucks. A small crowd gathered to watch.

"There was another explosion right then. We all took off running," Klose said.

Two FBI agents also planned to go to the crash site, about a quarter-mile from the city's ferry terminal, said special agent Bob Burnham.

"It's a combat aircraft and we have some questions about that," he said.

The plane is registered to a Las Vegas company.

Burnham emphasized that the agency was going only in an observation capacity, not to investigate at this point. "It's a precautionary step on our part," Burnham said.

NTSB spokesman Larry Lewis said the pilot had requested an instrument-only approach into the airport shortly before 1 p.m., but it was not immediately clear why.

There was seven-mile visibility at the airport, well within acceptable guidelines, Lewis said.

But the National Weather Service office in Fairbanks said it was overcast at the Ketchikan airport at 1:04 p.m. Visibility was at two miles, with snow and fog. Winds were blowing at 16 mph from the northwest. The weather service said visibility had dropped to 1 1/2 miles by 1:22 p.m.

The plane was a Czech-made Albatros L39 training jet that was owned by USA Air Inc. of Las Vegas, Wilkinson said. Attempts to find a listing for the company on Wednesday were not successful.

Steven Matoon of Naukati said he had just arrived at the Ketchikan Airport aboard a plane from Anchorage when he heard the plane make a loud noise. He looked up and saw it kind of circle and then dive toward the ground, he said.

"We were waiting for luggage when it crashed," Matoon said. "It sounded like the engine blew out."

Matoon said quite a bit of the plane burned in the crash. There also was a good amount of jet fuel in the parking lot, he said.

"It was hot," Matoon said of the fire. "You could feel the heat from the road."

The plane that crashed left Sitka, bound for the Lower 48, without filing a flight plan, Wilkinson said.

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