ANCHORAGE - The National Transportation Safety Board has found that the crash of a small plane which killed a pilot, mother and daughter just before the 2013 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race occurred when it stalled in a box canyon.
In a probable cause finding on the March 4, 2013 crash of the Cessna 182B near Nikolai, NTSB investigators found no mechanical issues with the aircraft, flown by 59-year-old Ted Smith and carrying passengers Carolyn Sorvoja, 48, and Rosemarie Sorvoja, 10.
Smith had been ferrying the Sorvojas from Merrill Field in Anchorage to Takotna, where they hoped to volunteer at the Iditarod checkpoint. The plane was found the day after it crashed at the end of a box canyon near Rainy Pass about 65 miles southeast of Takotna.
A previous NTSB factual report included testimony from two pilots who had flown in Rainy Pass on the day of the crash and seen flat-light conditions in the area. One of the pilots, a friend of Smith's, also told investigators he had seen Smith become disoriented while trying to fly Rainy Pass in a helicopter the previous year.
"Given the lack of mechanical anomalies, the reported weather conditions, and the pilot statements, it is likely that the accident pilot mistakenly entered the box canyon thinking it was his route," NTSB officials wrote. "Additionally, wreckage impact signatures and GPS data indicated that it is likely that the pilot was attempting to avoid rising terrain by entering a steep bank turn, which resulted in an aerodynamic stall."
The NTSB's probable cause finding in the crash cites both piloting and weather conditions, including "(t)he pilot's failure to maintain adequate airspeed while maneuvering inside a box canyon and the airplane's subsequent aerodynamic stall, which resulted in an in-flight collision with mountainous terrain."
"Contributing to the accident was the pilot's visual disorientation in flat light conditions," NTSB officials wrote.
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