ANCHORAGE - A California man died when the small plane he was flying crashed near a western Alaska village after the engine stalled as he was looking at a whale skeleton, the pilot of a companion airplane said.
Alaska State Troopers said Shaun Lunt, 33, of Loma Linda, Calif., was dead at the scene of the fiery crash Friday night. Lunt's Piper Super Cub went down near Jacksmith Bay south of Quinhagak, about 425 miles west of Anchorage.
The other pilot, Loni Habersetzer of Washington state, also was flying a Super Cub and landed safely.
Habersetzer said he and Lunt had been beach-combing from the air and Lunt saw a whale vertebrae, circling the bones.
"The second time he circled, the plane stalled and spun and hit the ground and burned," Habersetzer said. "When the airplane burst into flames, I knew it was too late."
The burning remains of Lunt's plane attracted the attention of an Alaska State Troopers' plane Friday night. Troopers radioed Habersetzer and told him to remain until they could return, but he left.
Habersetzer told The Associated Press on Saturday evening that he waited at the crash site for more than two hours before he left.
"But after watching my friend burn for two hours I just couldn't stay there anymore," Habersetzer said in a phone interview from his Alaska property near Port Alsworth on the Nulchatna River, where he lives part of the year.
Both trooper spokeswoman Beth Ipsen and Habersetzer confirmed he spoke with troopers early Saturday evening. The National Transportation Safety Board will conduct further interviews, Ipsen said.
According to troopers, the pilots did not file a flight plan, but bought fuel in Dillingham before flying northwest.
According to Habersetzer's Web site, he is a bush pilot trainer and consultant doing business as Cubdriver 749er LLC.
On the site, he says he lives and flies commercially for a guide service in Alaska. He says he has more than 7,000 hours in Super Cubs and has logged more than 16,000 off-airport takeoffs and landings.
"I have made the off-airport environment my specialty," he says on the Web site.
Lunt, an anesthesiologist, was a Habersetzer alumni, according to a May 1 article about Habersetzer in the Smithsonian's Air & Space Magazine.
Ipsen said Lunt's body was recovered and would be taken to Anchorage for an autopsy.
Besides the NTSB, the Federal Aviation Administration also will investigate.