Whitesell 07-14-09

Two dead in crash of kit plane near Wasilla

Anchorage Daily News, Published: July 14th, 2009

The pilot and passenger of a small, home-built airplane are dead after it crashed Tuesday morning and went up in flames just west of Wasilla.

The bodies were so badly burned that official identification may take awhile and depend on dental records, Alaska State Troopers said. Initial investigation says one of the dead was Robert Whitesell, 63, of Mustang, Okla., troopers said.

The two who died were the only people on board, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The kit plane went down about half a mile off Mile 46 of the Parks Highway around 10 a.m. in Meadow Lakes, officials said.

Alaska State Trooper Lt. Patrick Davis said witnesses reported that the plane, which is on floats, took off from nearby Kalmbach Lake. Davis said witnesses reported that the engine sounded normal , but they reported hearing an explosion moments after takeoff, followed by the crash.

The plane was a CH 701 STOL kit plane, according to Alaska State Troopers. STOL, which stands for short take-off and landings, is a popular light sport aircraft made by Zenith Air that can take off in "less than 120 feet of unprepared grass, or 90 feet of hard surface," according to the company's Web site.

Davis confirmed that the plane's registered owner has a residence on Kalmbach Lake, but refused to confirm whether the registered owner piloted the plane until the family in California was notified.

The plane landed on a gated road that connects private properties on Kalmbach Lake to a gravel airstrip and, eventually, to the Parks Highway. National Safety Transportation Board investigator Larry Lewis said skid marks show the plane appeared to touch down about 20 feet before it came to a stop on the Kalmbach Lake Trail.

Davis said it was unclear where the plane was headed.

Lewis said Alaska has seen fewer airplane fatalities this year than in typical years. The last airplane fatality that happened in the Valley is believed to be a single-engine Beechcraft plane that left Wolf Lake Airport June 21 with plans to fly to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. Pilot Gary Petigler of California and a passenger never arrived at their destination and Lewis said his office suspects the plane crashed.