Probe begins into fatal plane crash

Posted: Friday, October 03, 2008

ANCHORAGE - Investigators will be examining the engine and propeller from a small plane that crashed and burned soon after take-off.

Two people were killed in the late-morning crash on Wednesday just outside Merrill Field in Anchorage. The names of the man and woman on board were not being released Thursday.

Investigators will be looking for clues to why the Cessna 206 suffered either a partial or total engine failure before going nose-down into a vacant commercial building near the airport, said Larry Lewis, an air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board.

Given the witness accounts of hearing a marked difference in the sound of the engine just before the crash, Lewis said several scenarios are possible, including that the plane's crank shaft, push rod, or cam shaft broke. It also could have lost a cylinder, Lewis said.

Any one of those problems could have caused the engine to fail, he said.

The medical examiner's office in Anchorage said the names of the victims likely would be available Monday. Lewis said investigators determined that no one else was on board the six-seater plane.

Lewis said investigators will be looking at the paperwork on the plane and the log books to see if there were any recent maintenance issues. Investigators also will do an "engine teardown" next week in which the engine will be taken apart piece by piece.

Despite the crash and the gas-fed fire that followed, the engine is fairly well intact, Lewis said. That will make it easier for investigators to determine if any broken parts were because of the accident or occurred prior to the crash.

Lewis said the Cessna 206 has a good, solid reputation for reliability.

The fixed wing, single-engine plane is registered to a man in Nevada but operates out of the Kenai Peninsula in the summer months. It was built in 1968 and had a valid registration certificate issued in 2006.

Late Wednesday morning, the plane took off from runway 25 at Merrill Field, banked to the left and clipped the top of the commercial building. It then crashed on to a street and burned.

Once the fire was put out, only charred pieces of metal remained of the plane. The wreckage was taken to a storage facility outside the city. The engine and propeller are at an engine shop at Merrill Field.

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