ANCHORAGE - The National Transportation Safety Board says the plane crash last summer that killed a well-known pilot and three park rangers was caused by the pilots decision to fly into weather so bad it broke up the plane in mid-air.
The final report, released this week, said Don Bowers, chief pilot for Hudson Air Service, left Talkeetna on the afternoon of June 19 in a ski-equipped Cessna 185 with National Park Service ranger Cale Schaffer and volunteer rangers Brian Paul Reagan and Adam Kolff. Bowers was taking the three men to the glacier airstrip and mountaineering base camp on the southeast fork of the Kahiltna Glacier to begin a routine patrol on Mount McKinley's West Buttress climbing route.
Bowers was advised when he departed from Talkeetna that the mountain was obscured by low clouds and that turbulence was reported in the area, the NTSB said. Variable weather conditions at base camp made landings there problematic during the day, the report said.
Glacier pilots headed for the 7,200-foot base camp often check with the camp manager to obtain local weather information. The camp manager told an NTSB investigator that Bowers did not call, which a Hudson Air Service official disputes, the report said.
About 45 minutes into the flight, Bowers talked to a pilot at the Kahiltna base camp by radio and learned the upper area of the glacier was closed because of low clouds, the report said. Bowers later reported weather had closed the lower portion of the glacier and Schaffer radioed that the plane was headed back to Talkeetna.
The plane was found the next afternoon on a hillside 52 miles northwest of Talkeetna.
Investigators later found "that both wings separated from the fuselage in a downward direction," the report said. A lodge near the accident site reported severe weather at the time of the crash, including a large wall of cumulus clouds, rain and hail, the report said.