Bettles crash pilot had a passion for travel

Posted: Wednesday, July 18, 2001

FAIRBANKS - The doctor who piloted a floatplane that crashed about 50 miles south of Bettles on Sunday was known as a safe pilot who would take friends on short sightseeing trips to nearby lakes.

A friend of Nancy Lewis, 48, a retired Fairbanks family practitioner, called her very careful when it came to inspections and flying her 1977 Maule M-5.

"She was very focused," said Simon Rakower, a friend of about 15 years who remembered Lewis coming into his shop and offering lunchtime plane rides to lakes.

"She'd fly and land somewhere and look at the ducks and then go back," Rakower said.

Lewis and three passengers from New Mexico died in the crash Sunday near Lake Sithylemenkat, near Bettles, about 180 miles northeast of Fairbanks. Alaska State Troopers identified the passengers Wednesday as Dr. Janette Carter, 49, an Albuquerque physician; her husband, Steve Wilkes, 54, a management consultant; and their son, Eliot, 9.

Carter attended medical school with Lewis in Cleveland, Ohio, according to Lewis' husband, Hugh Rose.

National Transportation Safety Board air safety investigator Clint Johnson picked through the wreckage of Lewis' plane located within a 100-foot-area about three miles from the lake Monday. It took only three hours to conduct an initial investigation, but Johnson said he has not determined the cause of the crash.

"Until we actually tear the engine down and totally disassemble the engine, it's all speculation," Johnson said.

He said the plane crashed at about 3,200 feet on the side of the mountainous bowl surrounding the lake.

The wrecked plane was pointing downhill, meaning it had probably taken off and was circling when it struck the mountain, Johnson said.

Rose said the recently retired doctor had about 1,000 flying hours and a long list of certifications, including for commercial airplanes.

Lewis, a Long Island, N.Y., native, retired in December after 20 years as a doctor in Fairbanks.

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