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Tue, Jun 20, 2023

Alaska Bush Flying Legend Lost in Cessna 180 Accident

Jim Tweto, Gone at 68

Alaska State Troopers reported on 17 June 2023 that noted bush pilot, television personality, aviation executive, and long-time Alaska resident Jim Tweto (68) lost his life in an as-of-yet poorly understood aircraft accident in the vicinity of Shaktoolik, Alaska—a coastal settlement of some 251 residents approximately 110-nautical-miles east-southeast of Nome.

Also on 17 June, an NTSB social media account set forth at 15:59 Alaska Daylight Time (UTC -8) that the agency was “investigating the crash of a Cessna 180H airplane near Unalakleet, Alaska.”

Alaska State Troopers received an SOS notification transmitted from an InReach satellite communications device at 11:48 ADT on Friday, 16 June. Shortly thereafter, an aircraft was reported downed 35-statute-miles northeast of Shaktoolik.

Witnesses reported the Cessna 180 failed to gain altitude after departing (presumably) Shaktoolik Airport (SKK), a state-owned public-use, single-gravel-runway airfield one nautical-mile northwest of Shaktoolik’s central business district—as it were.

The Alaska State Police subsequently issued the following statement:

"On June 16, 2023, at 11:48 am, Alaska State Troopers were notified of an SOS activation from an InReach device. It was reported that there had been a plane crash 35 miles Northeast of Shaktoolik. The Cessna 180 aircraft was witnessed taking off but not climbing and then crashing.  Subsequent information was reported that both occupants of the aircraft were deceased. Alaska State Troopers responded from Nome and recovered the two bodies from the crash site. Tentative identification of the deceased is Pilot Jim Tweto, age 68 of Unalakleet, Alaska, and passenger Shane Reynolds, age 45 of Orofino, Idaho. Next of kin has been notified. The bodies are being transported to the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Anchorage.  NTSB was notified of the crash."

A Kansas native, Tweto made his way to Alaska at age 18 by dint of a hockey scholarship to the University of Alaska Anchorage. He settled in Unalakleet, marrying Ferno Tweto, with whom he founded a flying concern. In 1990, the Twetos’ flying company merged with Hageland Aviation, which in-turn merged with Era Alaska. In 2009, Era—under the auspices of CEO Jim Tweto—merged with Frontier Flying Service, thereby establishing the company among Alaska’s major regional air-carriers.

In addition to his business exploits, Mr. Tweto’s community leadership made his a household name throughout Western Alaska.

Such was Tweto’s notoriety that he was featured on the Discovery Channel program Flying Wild Alaska, which ran in 2011 and 2012.

Tweto’s daughter Ariel—also featured on the television program—expressed her grief on Instagram, stating: “I didn’t think anything could hurt this bad. And I don’t know why I’m writing this, but the news is out so I figured you hear it from me. My dad and a wonderful hunting guide and friend of our family passed away this afternoon in his 180.”

Comments on the post evinced the elder Tweto’s renown among his fellow aviators and the affection with which he was broadly regarded.

“I’ve always liked working for him and he treated me so good,” one fellow pilot said. “I’ll never forget flying the 180 with him in St. Mary’s. He let me keep my tailwheel current in it. He will be missed.”



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