That National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) has issued a preliminary report on the disappearance of a plane last seen Sept. 9 departing Yakutat, Alaska. The Piper PA-32 Cherokee, piloted by Alan Foster of Eagle River, went missing and presumably crashed between Yakutat and Anchorage.
The certified airline transport pilot had filed a Visual Flight Rules (VFR) plan in Yakutat with a final destination of Merrill Field in Anchorage. Yakutat's reported visual meteorological conditions around the time he refueled and departed were good: 10 miles visibility with a few clouds at 1,700 feet; a broken ceiling at 5,000 feet and overcast ceiling at 6,000 feet. The wind was at 4 knots.
Foster recently purchased N3705W and was ferrying it from Georgia to Alaska. His arrival in Yakutat was uneventful and according to other published reports, he last spoke with another pilot at Cape Yakataga, about midway between Yakutat and Cordova. The pilot warned Foster about deteriorating weather in the Cordova area, according to the NTSB.
Foster was last seen on radar about 42 miles west of Yakutat near Malaspina Glacier. An alert was issued about 9 p.m. that day indicated that Foster was overdue; a searcsh was initiated a short time later that centered 40 miles northwest of Yakutat and grew to include the Civil Air Patrol, Alaska State Troopers, Alaska Air National Guard, Coast Guard and volunteers. Bad weather and a wide search area hampered the effort, and ultimately it was concluded Sept. 24.
The pilot held multiple certificates and ratings and was a certified flight engineer and mechanic. His medical was current and reported over 9,700 flight hours. His plane was not equipped with a registered 406 MHz ELT beacon, the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center said Sept. 11, which left rescuers little choice but an aerial search over hundreds of square miles.
Factual Narrative and Probable Cause reports will be issued by the NTSB in the coming months although without an aircraft they are likely to provide little information beyond that which is already known. The NTSB was not available for comment on the preliminary report due to the current federal government shutdown, which furloughed Alaska’s three full-time aviation crash investigators.
Contact Colleen Mondor at colleen(at)alaskadispatch.com