May 25th, 2024

Pilot reported fire onboard plane carrying fuel, attempted to return to Fairbanks just before crash

By Mark Thiessen, The Associated Press on April 24, 2024.

Smoke rises after a Douglas C-54 Skymaster plane crashed into the Tanana River outside Fairbanks, Alaska, Tuesday, April 23, 2024. The plane took off in the morning from Fairbanks International Airport. It crashed about 7 miles (11 kms.) from there and "slid into a steep hill on the bank of the river where it caught fire," according to Alaska State Troopers. (Gary Contento via AP)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) – One of the two pilots aboard an airplane carrying fuel reported there was a fire on the airplane shortly before it crashed and burned outside Fairbanks, killing both people on board, a federal aviation official said Wednesday.

The pilot had made radio contact about the in-fight emergency shortly after taking off, said Clint Johnson, head of the National Transportation Safety Board’s Alaska regional office. They were attempting to return to Fairbanks International Airport when they lost contact, he said.

The plane crashed about 7 miles (11 kilometers) outside Fairbanks, hitting a steep hill and sliding down an embankment to the bank of the Tanana River. Alaska state troopers say no survivors were found.

The plane departed Fairbanks just before 10 a.m., loaded with 3,200 gallons of heating oil for Kobuk, an Inupiat village of less than 200 people located about 300 miles (480 kilometers) northwest of Fairbanks.

Johnson said there was also about 1,200 gallons of aviation fuel aboard the DC-54 Skymaster plane, a World War II era airplane that had been converted to a freighter.

It is difficult and expensive to get fuel to rural Alaska villages, which are remote and difficult to reach because of the state’s limited road system. The Northwest Arctic Borough said heating fuel in Kobuk was $15.45 a gallon in 2022.

The Alaska Energy Authority said barges usually deliver fuel to coastal communities. But in villages where barges can’t run or it’s not economically feasible, air tankers will deliver fuel – but that is even limited by sea or river ice, water levels or ice road availability.

The plane was registered to Alaska Air Fuel of Wasilla. Phone messages left for the company have not been returned.

The pilots’ names have not been released.

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