The NTSB and FAA are investigating the crash of a Piper Chieftain that went down in eastern Washington state July 10. The pilot, Josh Dierks, 27, who was the only person on board the aircraft, was killed. The aircraft belonged to Airpac Airlines, a cargo company based in Seattle.
According to an FAA spokesperson, Dierks was flying in VFR conditions en route from Spokane to Seattle when he radioed ATC that he was having difficulty maintaining altitude. He said he was going to try to land at the nearby Easton State Airport (ESW). The airport, a grass strip in the Cascade Mountains, was built in the 1930s by the federal government to use as an emergency field for DC-3s crossing the Cascades through Snoqualmie Pass. The turf runway measures 2,640 feet long.
Vic Hugdahl, a former pilot who lives near the airport, said the Piper was in a sideslip as it passed overhead.
“I knew he was trying to make it to the airfield. He was at treetop level for about four seconds, then he hit the trees,” said Hugdahl. “There was a loud snap and then a thud and an explosion.”
Hugdahl said the wings were torn off the aircraft. The wreckage flipped and came down in the backyard of a home and exploded in flames.
Wayne Frisk, who lives less than a quarter mile from the airport, heard the airplane pass overhead and then heard the impact.
He and his neighbors rushed to the scene but there was nothing they could do for the pilot because of the intensity of the flames. They used garden hoses to try to douse the fire.
“The pilot did a hell of a job missing the houses,” said Frisk. “There are maybe 65 of them less than a quarter of a mile from the airport.”
The crash was the second fatal accident for Airpac this year. On Jan. 6 Airpac pilot Eric Beard — also a noted airshow performer — was killed when the Piper Seneca he was flying crashed 400 yards from the runway in IMC at Skagit Regional Airport (BVS) in Burlington, Wash. That crash is also under investigation.