Stephen Finley, 7/11/03

Pilot dies in crash near Kachemak Bay
ENGLISH BAY: Homer-based Cessna 206 hits water after aborted landing.

Daily News staff and wire reports
(Published: July 12, 2003)

A Smokey Bay Air pilot died Friday morning when a company Cessna 206 crashed on takeoff into English Bay near Homer.

Stephen Finley, 49, of Hopewell, N.J., was piloting the craft and was alone when it crashed about 11 a.m., Alaska State Troopers said.

Troopers in Homer received a 911 call about the crash about 11 a.m. Troopers, including dive team members, responded as did the Coast Guard, which dispatched a helicopter from Kodiak. The cutter Hickory sent out a small boat with rescuers.

The plane went down in about 25 feet of water, said Petty Officer Darrell Wilson, a Coast Guard spokesman. Troopers recovered the body and transported it to Homer in the Coast Guard helicopter.

Victor Vodila, 22, of Florida, witnessed the crash. He was in Nanwalek fishing for the summer.

Vodila was dipnetting with his fishing companion when he saw the aircraft trying to land.

The plane bounced on the runway until it hit the middle of the landing strip, Vodila said. Finley then aborted the landing, taking off again.

Vodila saw the plane turn right to miss nearby cliffs. A crosswind then pushed the plane onto its side.

The plane went wing down into the bay and the aircraft flipped over, Vodila said.

The aircraft landed about 200 yards offshore from Nanwalek Beach, troopers said.

Vodila rushed to the crash scene, lassoed one of the tires and waited for rescuers to arrive. The plane sank about 25 to 35 feet into the water, troopers said.

"We were going to try to drag it, but the line was too weak," Vodila said. "All we could do was sit and wait for help."

The plane's wing was broken and the engine was gone. The aircraft took about five minutes to sink, Vodila said.

Troopers arrived a few hours later to attach a more secure line to the plane and remove the body. The plane was then towed to shore.

Finley was based in Homer working for the summer. Authorities are investigating.

Nanwalek is located at the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula.

This was the second on-the-job death this summer for an employee of Smokey Bay Air, an air taxi company that operates out of Homer.

Co-owner Scott Cunningham, 43, was killed June 11 when the forklift he was operating slid off a soft shoulder along Kachemak Bay Drive and crushed him.