Berners plane crash still under investigation

Federal safety board needs to interview passengers, pilot

Posted: Thursday, August 03, 2006

Jessica Ludwig received the kind of phone call Monday morning that turns one's stomach. She was told the father of her child had been in a plane crash.

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"I didn't cry, but I was immediately sick," said Ludwig, an employee of the Juneau Empire. "It sounds weird, but you start thinking how you're going to explain it to your kid."

As it turned out, her boyfriend, Andy Miller, was switched at the last minute from the Ward Air floatplane that crashed Monday in Slate Cove, about 50 miles northwest of Juneau, she said.

The DeHavilland Otter is believed to have crashed at about 11:30 a.m. in the cove on the west side of Berners Bay, with six passengers and a pilot aboard, said National Transportation Safety Board air safety investigator Larry Lewis. The plane was shuttling workers from Juneau to the Kensington gold mine.

Four people were taken by helicopter to Juneau for treatment of minor injuries at Bartlett Regional Hospital.

Lewis said the investigation is ongoing and could take several months to complete.

"It could have been significantly worse and they are fortunate that it wasn't," Lewis said. "It's just a mishap and fortunately the airplane held up well and so did the folks."

Lewis said he could not speculate on the cause of the accident. A message with Ward Air was not returned as of press time.

"It was my understanding that one float was knocked off or knocked loose," he said. "The airplane managed to settle in the water right side up. It didn't sink, is my understanding."

Lewis said he doesn't believe the plane was totaled, adding that all crashes are investigated if there is structural damage.

The National Transportation Safety Board is still waiting to speak with the six passengers of the plane as well as the pilot, 34-year-old Arne Johnson of Juneau.

"I'm afraid it's way too fresh to have much of anything and this is one of seven (airplane crashes) in Alaska this week," Lewis said.

He said most of the crashes occurred near Fairbanks and most were considered relatively minor.

Ludwig said she and Miller are lucky that Monday's accident wasn't more serious.

"His backpack was on the plane," she said. "That was one of the things that they fished out of the water. The only thing that didn't make it was an alarm clock and a laptop."

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