Richard Blinkey 8/17/84 Sheep Mountain Flying Crash

David Dole 8/17/84 Sheep Mountain Flying Crash

Kenneth Thomas 8/17/84 Sheep Mountain Flying Crash

Troy Benford 8/17/84 Sheep Mountain Flying Crash

4 Air Force men die in canyon plane crash

by Earl Swift, Times, 8/19/84

Four Air Force enlisted men were killed Friday when the single-engine airplane in which they were flying crashed near the Glenn Highway north of Anchorage.

The plane, a Cessna 172 owned by the Elmendorf Aero Club, apparently entered a box canyon on the north side of Sheep Mountain, 84 miles northeast of Anchorage near the Matanuska Glacier, shortly after 7 p.m. Friday.

National Transportation Safety Board Chief Investigator Jim Michelangelo said the small plane apparently went into a spin when its pilot, 33-year-old Richard A. Blinkey, tried to turn the craft around to exit the canyon.

Killed in the mishap were Blinkey, David F. Doles, 36, Kenneth L. Thomas, 28, and 23-year-old Troy B. Benford, all Air Force enlisted men stationed at Elmendorf.

The four, flying the club-owned aircraft in an attempt to sight and photograph Dall sheep, took off from the base at about 5:10 p.m. and flew northeast to Mount Gunsight, then on to Sheep Mountain, on an Air Force visual flight rules plan, Michelangelo said.

The Cessna flew into the box canyon near Fortress Creek - at the 4,250 foot level on the mountain's north side - about two hours later.

"It appears the pilot attempted to make a 180-degree turn to leave the canyon," Michelangelo said. "The aircraft went out of control and crashed. The airplane was completely destroyed."

Transmission from an emergency locator transmitter aboard the Cessna were picked up by a passing pilot shortly after the accident, and an Alaska State Trooper helicopter - which had already spent most of the day searching for a missing F-15 fighter plane near Denali National Park - landed at the site late Friday night.

Darkness and poor weather prevented an investigation of the crash site, troopers said. The dead men's bodies were recovered when a team of troopers and the NTSB personnel returned to the canyon early Saturday in an Air Force H-3 helicopter.

Air Force Capt. Ronald McGee said the fatal accident was believed to be the first involving the base's 250-member Aero Club, which owns and operates 13 aircraft. The club - open to active military personnel, Civil Air Patrol members and National Guardsmen and selected others - logs between 500 and 600 hours in the air per month and has an excellent safety record, the captain said.

Michelangelo said Blinkey was certified as a private pilot late last year. "It appears that it's another accident involving a low-time, private pilot flying in the Alaska mountains," the inspector said. "People get 60 hours (of flying) and then they think they can go out flying here, and it doesn't work that way. I've said this for years."