Shaun Lunt 2008-06-06

California pilot killed in crash near Quinhagak
Plane stalls, crashes while circling remains of whale skeleton

By MEGAN HOLLAND,, Published: June 8th, 2008

A California pilot who had a flair for adventure died in a small-plane crash in Western Alaska after his aircraft stalled while he was circling a whale skeleton.

Alaska State Troopers say Shaun Lunt, an anesthesiologist from Loma Linda, Calif., went down Friday near Jacksmith Bay about 20 miles south of the village of Quinhagak, 400 miles west of Anchorage.

The cause of the crash is under investigation.

Lunt, who was in his mid-30s, was piloting one Piper Super Cub while his friend and flight instructor Loni Habersetzer of Washington was piloting another.

Habersetzer told The Associated Press on Saturday that he and Lunt had been beachcombing from the air when Lunt saw a whale vertebrae, and began circling the bones.

"The second time he circled, the plane stalled and spun and hit the ground and burned," Habersetzer said. "When the airplane burst into flames, I knew it was too late."

A trooper plane on a routine flight in the area saw the smoke and flames shooting up from the plane about 7:30 p.m. The plane was partially submerged in water, and Habersetzer's Piper Cub was parked nearby.

Troopers called him on the radio.

"It sounded like he was a little freaked out," said trooper spokeswoman Beth Ipsen.

Unable to land themselves because of high winds, troopers told Habersetzer to stay put. When they returned several hours later, though, he was gone.

Habersetzer told the AP he waited at the site for two hours before leaving.

"After watching my friend burn for two hours, I just couldn't stay there anymore," Habersetzer said in a phone interview from his Alaska property near Port Alsworth on the Mulchatna River, where he lives part of the year.

Troopers, though, were not happy about Habersetzer taking off. They spent much of Saturday trying to locate him. He finally called in around 6:45 p.m., Ipsen said.

Both men enjoyed flying their planes to remote parts of Alaska, according to an article about Habersetzer in last month's Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine.

"Habersetzer specializes in landing in difficult places," the article says. He "flies into unwelcoming places purely for sport, pushing the limits of his ability and the performance envelope of his airplane."

Habersetzer teaches his techniques to other Super Cub pilots in Alaska, through his business Cubdriver749er.

Habersetzer's business Web site says, "I have made the off-airport environment my specialty."

Lunt was a student of his, according to Lunt's blog chronicling his adventures.

Lunt was a proficient pilot with 12 years experience and advanced flying licenses, including an aerobatics one, according to the Air & Space article.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash and troopers are investigating the death, Ipsen said.

Find Megan Holland online at or call 257-4343.