NTSB report says pilot error to blame for Ketchikan crash

Posted: Monday, March 05, 2007

ANCHORAGE - The pilot of a plane that crashed in Ketchikan last year was flying too low and didn't follow instrument landing procedures, according to a federal report.

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The National Transportation Safety Board this week released its probable cause determination for the Jan. 25, 2006, crash that killed pilot Stephen Freeman, 32, of San Diego. Five other people on the ground had minor injuries, the report said.

The Czech-built military jet was part of a fleet of a dozen L-39 Albatros military jets acquired in 2005 by Anchorage air charter company Security Aviation Inc. There was a dispute over some of the jets, and four were being repossessed by the seller, Air USA Inc. of Quincy, Ill. Security Aviation has sued Air USA and some former Security employees over the matter.

Freeman, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection pilot, was off duty and working for Air USA to repossess one of the jets when he crashed on a flight from Sitka to Ketchikan.

He was circling around to land, a procedure sometimes used in windy conditions.

"I got the field in sight, I'm gonna try an' cut the circle," Freeman told the Ketchikan airport, according to the report.

But a Ketchikan flight specialist radioed him to abort the landing after the specialist heard from another pilot that Freeman was over the water.

It was too late. About a mile from the runway, Freeman hit the water in the Tongass Narrows, bouncing off it three times with the landing gear down, according to what a witness told investigators. He was able to climb, but the engine was already damaged.

The report said Freeman ejected from the two-seater jet. A seat-stabilizing parachute deployed, but the pilot's parachute did not. He was still in his ejection seat when it struck trees.

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