Alaska Take-Off From Bad Runway Winds Up In The Drink

Sometimes, the great skill that a pilot can have is to know when to quit and judging from the factors involved in this accident, there seems to have been a number of issues to conntend that may have benefitted from a change in plans. A short runway, potholes and the reported downdraft made this takeoff a mess right from the start.

File Photo

NTSB Identification: ANC12FA014
Scheduled 14 CFR Part 135: Air Taxi & Commuter
Accident occurred Thursday, December 15, 2011 in Nanwalek, AK
Aircraft: CESSNA U206G, registration: N252AL
Injuries: 4 Minor.
This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors.

On December 15, 2011, about 1530 Alaska standard time, a Cessna U206G airplane, N252AL, sustained substantial damage when it impacted ocean waters shortly after takeoff from Runway 01 at the Nanwalek Airport, Nanwalek, Alaska. The airplane was being operated by Smokey Bay Air, Homer, Alaska, as a visual flight rules (VFR) scheduled commuter flight under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 135. The pilot and three passengers sustained minor injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident, and company flight following procedures were in effect. The flight originated from the Homer Airport about 1445, with a stop in Port Graham, Alaska.

In a written statement to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the pilot stated that the wind at the airport was from the east at 12 to 15 knots, and the runway was covered with approximately 3 inches of slush, with as much as 6 inches in the potholes. During the takeoff roll on runway 01, the airplane’s acceleration was degraded due to the runway contamination, but it became airborne near the midpoint of the runway. He stated that as he was making a left turn, the airplane encountered a strong down draft. With full power applied to the engine and the airplane’s pitch attitude set to best angle of climb, he said the airplane was still descending approximately 500 feet per minute. When he realized that the airplane was not going to climb, he reduced the engine power to idle and ditched the airplane approximately 100 feet from the shore. After the airplane entered the water, the pilot and three passengers evacuated the airplane through the pilot’s door and began to swim to shore, where they were assisted by local bystanders.

Another pilot that was at the north end of the airport said he saw the airplane takeoff in a nose high attitude, “as you would expect of a soft-field takeoff.” He stated that the airplane continued in a very nose high attitude until it descended below his line of sight, at which time he went to his airplane and radioed another pilot flying in the area, and informed him that an airplane was down near Nanwalek.

The area surrounding the Nanwalek airport produces significant turbulence and downdrafts, especially when the prevailing wind is from the east. The airport is tightly constrained by terrain and water on all sides, and the 1,850 feet runway is not regularly maintained. The FAA Airport/Facility Directory, Alaska Supplement listing for the Nanwalek Airport contains the following notation: “Airport Remarks – Unattended. Runway 01-19 north 1,000 feet CLOSED indefinitely, remaining 850 feet soft.”