Alaska Aviation Safety Back in the Spotlight This Week

Pilot training, FAA oversight of Hageland Aviation, and guidance for pilots on deteriorating weather conditions to mitigate controlled-flight-into-terrain risk are topics to be discussed at the Aug. 17 hearing in Anchorage.

The National Transportation Safety Board is holding an investigative hearing Aug. 17, a hearing open to the public, in the Mid-Deck Ballroom of the Captain Cook Hotel, 939 W. 5th Ave. in Anchorage, Alaska. It will be the agency's first investigative hearing held in Alaska since the Exxon Valdez ran aground in March 1989 and is its first investigative hearing held outside of Washington, D.C., in nearly 20 years. The accident it concern is all too familiar: the crash of an Alaska commuter aircraft.

The agency has been investigating the Oct. 2, 2016, crash of flight 3153 near Togiak, Alaska; it conducts investigative hearings as part of a major transportation accident investigation to gather sworn testimony from subpoenaed witnesses on issues identified by the NTSB during the investigation and to allow the public to observe the investigation's progress. According to the agency's announcement, an investigative hearing differs from a board meeting in that no analysis is conducted or discussed at the investigative hearing – it is for fact finding only.

Flight 3153 was a scheduled commuter flight operated by Hageland Aviation Services, Inc., d/b/a Ravn Connect. The turbine-powered Cessna 208 B departed Quinhagak, Alaska, at 11:33 a.m., Oct. 2, 2016, destined for Togiak, with two pilots and one passenger aboard. It hit steep, mountainous, rocky terrain at about 11:54 a.m. approximately 12 miles northwest of Togiak, killing all on board.

"The NTSB is conducting this investigative hearing in Alaska because the majority of witnesses we want to hear from are in Alaska," said board member Earl Weener said last month. "We also believe that holding the hearing in Alaska will help increase awareness within the Alaskan aviation community of the issues surrounding controlled flight into terrain accidents and flight into instrument meteorological conditions. There have been 36 accidents involving controlled flight into terrain in Alaska between 2008-2016, resulting in the loss of 40 lives. We know aviation in Alaska is central to sustaining communities, economies, and the enjoyment of the wilderness of our nation's last frontier. The safety issues being addressed in this hearing will bolster the efforts already underway within the Alaskan aviation community."

Pilot training, FAA oversight of Hageland Aviation, and guidance for pilots on deteriorating weather conditions to mitigate controlled-flight-into-terrain risk are topics to be discussed at the hearing; NTSB said its review of accident data showed Hageland Aviation Services aircraft have been involved in six accidents since 2013, four of which involved controlled flight into terrain. The agency issued two safety recommendations in 2014 asking the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct audits of operators owned by the holding company HoTH, Inc., which included Hageland Aviation Services.

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