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Pilot Could Have Landed At Nearby, Safer Airport

February 6, 1985

SOLDOTNA, Alaska (AP) _ The pilot of a commuter airliner that crashed, killing all nine men aboard, attempted two bad weather landings at Soldotna airport when he could have tried a safer airport 12 miles away, a federal official said.

″I don’t know why he chose to land at Soldotna, given the weather conditions and the status of the two airports,″ Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Paul Steucke said Tuesday.

Minutes before the North Pacific Air Service twin-engine Beechcraft Queen plowed into a 200-foot ridge and burst into flames, the pilot received a report from nearby Kenai airport that it had the same freezing rain, light snow and fog as the Soldotna field, Steucke said.

″Pilots prefer to land at Kenai (in bad weather) than at Soldotna,″ Steucke said. ″Between 6:50 and 7:50 p.m. we had seven flights that landed at Kenai, one of which attempted to land at Soldotna and then went back to Kenai. The last landing at Soldotna prior to the crash was at 4:30 p.m.,″ he said. The plane crashed about 8:30 p.m.

Pilot Carlton Horton, 36, aborted one landing attempt at Soldotna, then radioed he would try again, using a different approach.

Instead, the plane crashed on the ridge about one mile southwest of the runway. Authorities said all those aboard were pronounced dead at the scene, and some of them were badly burned.

Alaska State Troopers identified the dead as Horton, copilot Brent Davis, passengers Frank Lazer, 39, Will Breitenfeld, 44, Rick Stroud, 24, Jim Hodges, 49, and Mike Hodes, 38, all of Soldotna; Frank Ault, 30, of Sterling; and Jim Ryder, 47, of Ninilchik.

The airplane was making a regularly scheduled flight from Anchorage to Soldotna, a 60-mile trip that usually takes about 30 minutes.

James Michelangelo, Alaska’s chief inspector for the National Transportation Safety Board, said landing at Kenai could have been an option for the pilot. But Michelangelo refused to second-guess the pilot’s decision.

″We will not surmise on the probable cause or contributing causes,″ he said. An official determination of the accident’s cause may take nine months, Michelangelo said.

Bill Rodgers, general manager of North Pacific, said both pilot and copilot were experienced and in excellent health.

Commuter airlines recorded six fatal accidents resulting in 60 deaths in the United States in 1984. Three of those crashes, resulting in 11 deaths, were in Alaska.

There have been 45 air accidents in Alaska since Jan. 1, 10 of them involving commuter lines, Steucke said.

The crash was the first accident for North Pacific Air Service, established in 1981, said Rodgers.

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