Two Fatal Plane Crashes Add to History of Accidents
October 7, 2016 | Aviation Accidents
In just the past two months, Alaskan communities have suffered two tragic aviation accidents. On October 2, 2016, a Hageland Aviation Services Cessna 208 on a scheduled commuter flight, Ravn Connect flight #3153, crashed into terrain near Togiak, Alaska killing everyone on board. Just about one month earlier, on August 31, 2016, a different Hageland Aviation Services Cessna 208, Ravn Connect flight #3190, collided midair with a Piper PA-18 Super Cub approximately 6.5 miles north of Russian Mission Airport. All souls on board both planes died. This Hageland/Ravn Connect Part 135 commuter flight was operating on a VFR flight plan at the time of the fatal midair collision. http://www.ntsb.gov/_layouts/ntsb.aviation/brief.aspx?ev_id=20160831X62719&key=1&queryId=beb48cba-51fb-440f-9164-e265b45d6fa9&pgno=1&pgsize=50
Unfortunately this is not the first time Hageland Aviation has demonstrated a pattern of unsafe flight operations. After a series of six aircraft accidents and one incident between 2012-2014, the NTSB issued an urgent safety recommendation to improve oversight of the parent company of Hageland Aviation, HoTH, Inc.. http://www.ntsb.gov/news/press-releases/Pages/PR20140501.aspx. Three of these crashes involved Hageland Aviation, and in all three cases Hageland pilots were not operating on instrument (IFR) flight plans and flew into instrument meteorological conditions. With weather conditions in Alaska being routinely extreme and unpredictable, the prudent course when flying in dicey weather conditions is to file an IFR flight plan, which provides positive air traffic control, hazard avoidance, and in most cases precision approaches into destination airports.
The results of Hageland’s mishaps from 2012-2014 were 5 fatalities and another 13 persons injured. In response to the NTSB’s urgent safety recommendation, The FAA conducted a comprehensive audit of the regulatory compliance and operational safety programs in place at Hageland Aviation and its sister companies, Era Aviation and Frontier Flying Service. These companies do business as Ravn Alaska, Ravn Connect, and Corvus Airlines. The FAA found significant deficiencies within these operators’ training, risk management, and operational control procedures. Additionally, Alaska Airlines severed its partnership with Hageland Aviation at the end of 2013. http://www.adn.com/aviation/article/ravn-alaska-air-group-involved-five-open-investigations-ntsb/2014/04/12/
Following the FAA audit and split from Alaska Airlines, Hageland has made positive changes in the last couple years, including the installation of a state-of-the-art control center in Palmer, Alaska. Now the control station operators in Palmer maintain release authority for all flights. http://www.alaskapublic.org/2015/07/21/hageland-aviations-palmer-control-center/. These control station operators analyze several factors to determine a risk assessment for each flight, and some flights require consultation with the chief pilot or operations director before the plane can be released.
Centralized release control is a positive risk mitigation step, but after the pilot takes off, he or she is in control of the flight. There is absolutely no question that Alaskan bush pilots operate in some of the most austere and dangerous flight conditions on Earth. They need the best technology to do so safely and should maximize the use of precision instrument approaches, positive air traffic control handling, and collision avoidance systems.
Clearly, with two fatal Ravn/Hageland accidents in the last two months alone, there is more work to be done in improving the company’s safety procedures. Are the recent Hageland fatal crashes linked to the NTSB-recognized pattern of its systemic unsafe flight operations? Only time will tell. The NTSB’s final investigative reports on the two crashes will eventually provide some answers. In the meantime, however, Napoli Shkolnik will leave no stone unturned when investigating the root causes of aircraft crashes and getting justice for the injured persons and family members we represent.
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