On June 21, 2019, about 1546 Alaska daylight time, a Helio Courier H-250 was destroyed by impact forces and a postcrash fire after a collision with tree-covered terrain about 25 miles southeast of Seward Airport (PAWD) in Alaska. The airline transport pilot and two passengers died in the crash.
Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident, and no flight plan was filed. The flight departed from an unimproved grass-covered airstrip about 25 nautical miles from PAWD, about 1546.
According to a friend of the pilot, the purpose of the flight was to pick up two passengers from the remote unimproved airstrip in an area of Seward known as Johnstone Bay and return them to PAWD. The pilot’s friend, who owns and operates an air taxi company based at Seward, explained that his air taxi had dropped off the couple to Johnstone Bay on June 18 and that the couple was originally scheduled to be picked up on June 25. The couple contacted the air taxi company owner via a satellite phone and asked to be picked up sooner.
The air taxi company owner stated that, when the couple called for an early pickup, the air taxi airplane was configured on wheel-skis for glacier operations and would be unable to land at the unimproved airstrip until after the skis were removed. The air taxi company owner noted that the pilot volunteered to pick up the couple, free of charge, and that the owner accepted the pilot’s offer. The Helio Courier H-250 departed PAWD about 1450.
The owner of the air taxi company tracked the airplane’s location using the pilot’s GPS unit. The last “ping” from the GPS unit was about 1546 at Johnstone Bay. When the airplane failed to return to PAWD by 1630, the air taxi company owner started an aerial search, and he eventually discovered burning airplane wreckage near the departure end of the airstrip.
At 1553, the meteorological information included wind from 180° at 10 knots, 10 statute miles visibility, clear sky, temperature 55°F, dew point 46°F, and an altimeter setting of 30.06 inches of mercury.
The air taxi owner reported that the weather at the time that he landed on the airstrip at Johnstone Bay was clear with very light wind.
The wreckage was located south of the airstrip on the shoreline of a small river that flowed from Little Johnstone Lake into Johnstone Bay in the north Pacific Ocean.
The airplane came to rest in a nose down vertical position on a heading of about 340°. The initial impact point was marked by a fresh tree break on a treetop in an area with trees that were about 85 feet tall. The distance between the initial impact point and the main wreckage site was about 125 feet. The airplane’s left wing had a large elliptical-shaped impact area with fresh pieces of the nearby broken tree wedged inside.
All major components of the airplane were found at the accident site but, a postcrash fire destroyed a large portion of the wreckage. The engine was still attached to the airframe, the exterior fuselage skin was burned with the main cabin frame tubing intact, and the empennage had separated and come to rest partially burned on the ground in front of the airplane. Both wings were heavily burned near the fuel tanks; only the outboard sections and leading edges of the wings were not burned. The landing gear components were found in the burned wreckage, and the horizontal stabilator was burned with only about one-half of the structure remaining.
Because the engine was thermally damaged, a detailed engine examination was not possible. Internal continuity of the engine was established visually using a light borescope. The postaccident examination of the airplane and engine revealed no mechanical failures or malfunctions that would have precluded normal operation.
Seven bags of luggage belonging to the passengers were found on the side of the airstrip. The bag weight varied from about 9 to 60 pounds and the total baggage weight was about 238 pounds. The bags appeared to have been intentionally left beside the airstrip.
Probable Cause: The pilot’s failure to maintain clearance from trees during takeoff, which resulted in an in-flight collision, a loss of control, and impact with terrain.
This June 2019 accident report is provided by the National Transportation Safety Board. Published as an educational tool, it is intended to help pilots learn from the misfortunes of others.