Pilots in fatal Alaska crash on different signals

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The pilots involved in a deadly 2011 midair collision in Alaska apparently were communicating on different radio frequencies before the crash, according to a report by the National Transportation Safety Board, a finding that local aviators say underscores the danger of the mishmash of communication channels and federal guidelines in the area.

The surviving pilot Kevin Earp, of Eagle River, told investigators he did not hear the other pilot on a frequency commonly used in that area, according to an NTSB factual report released this week.

Earp, a veteran Alaska Airlines pilot, told the NTSB he didn’t see the other plane until moments before the collision on July 30, 2011, near Talkeetna north of Anchorage.

The NTSB said Earp told investigators he steered his plane up and to the left, but was unable to avoid the collision. The Carlsons’ single-engine Cessna 180 floatplane crashed and burned, killing the 41-year-old pilot Corey Carlson, his 39-year-old wife, Hetty Carlson, and their two daughters, 5-year-old Ella and 3-year-old Adelaide “Addie.”

Carlson, of Anchorage, was heard on another frequency that’s also used in a region aviators say is marked by a confusing patchwork of frequencies assigned by the Federal Aviation Administration and contradictory guidelines written by the agency.

“You know, somebody just didn’t have two cups of coffee before they wrote that down,” Anchorage charter pilot Danny Davidson said Thursday. “They’re going to cause more deaths if they don’t fix it.”

Pilots of small planes are not required to use two-way radio communications in the area, but most do.

Clint Johnson, head of the NTSB’s Alaska regional office, said investigators aren’t absolutely sure what frequency Carlson was on. But family members said he commonly used the one another pilot heard him on that day.

“They told us by all accounts he was on that frequency,” Johnson said.

Earp wasn’t injured in the collision and was able to fly his slightly damaged Cessna 206 floatplane to Anchorage.

The Carlsons were heading to Amber Lake, where Earp also was headed. The collision occurred nearby.

There is no telephone listing for in Alaska for Kevin Earp, now 58, and he could not be reached. It’s unclear if he still is a pilot for Alaska Airlines and the airline did not immediately provide his job status to The Associated Press.

The collision led to the creation of an industry and government group aiming to resolve confusing and conflicting guidelines for radio frequencies in the region, where there are more than 200 private and public airports, landing strips and lakes to land on. The goal of the Mat Su Mid-Air Collision Avoidance Working Group is to make recommendations to the FAA.

Finishing touches are being put on a plan that would correct a complex problem by creating clearly defined frequency zones, said group co-chair Tom George, the Alaska regional manager for the national Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. He hopes to see significant changes in place in the coming year, to be rolled out in phases.

“Communications is probably the chief thing that people are concerned about in the area,” George said.

The FAA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.


Follow Rachel D’Oro at https://twitter.com/rdoro

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