Local man believed killed in Alaska plane crash

David Whisenant said to be on craft that went down Saturday

Sykesville

September 08, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

A Sykesville man visiting Alaska on a caribou hunting trip is believed to be one of two victims in a small plane crash that occurred over the weekend, authorities said yesterday.

Although positive identification is awaiting a report by the medical examiner, David W. Whisenant, 38, of Sykesville, was believed to be the sole passenger in the plane piloted by Ryan D. Hoerner, 31, of Big Fork, Mont., according to Alaska State Trooper Tim DeSpain.

Whisenant is listed in the Federal Aviation Administration pilots' directory as a single-engine private pilot. His residence is listed as the 5000 block of English Saddle Drive.

The two men were killed Saturday when their single-engine Piper PA-12 crashed near a remote fishing and hunting area in Southwest Alaska, authorities said.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board's preliminary investigation, the burning wreckage was spotted by another pilot passing overhead about 2 p.m. The pilot landed his plane 500 yards from the site, which was described as "flat tundra-covered terrain in the middle of nowhere" by NTSB aircraft accident investigator Clint Johnson.

Johnson said the good Samaritan was not able to put out the fire that engulfed the craft. The wreckage indicated that the airplane descended in an almost vertical drop. Typically, he said, that points to a loss of control.

"What led up to that is the question at hand," Johnson said.

Weather is unlikely to have been a factor, he said: Skies were clear and winds very light. There are no mountains in the vicinity.

The investigator's conversations with the pilot's father, also from Montana, showed that the Hoerners had purchased the airplane in Alaska last month. Johnson said that on the day of the crash, Hoerner and Whisenant were in search of a hunting area, where they planned to spend the night.

The area is a huge expanse well-known for its caribou hunting, Johnson said.

On Saturday, he said, the plane departed from a service station in Iliamna - about 100 to 150 miles west of Anchorage - at 10:30 a.m. Authorities said the crash occurred west of Iliamna.

Johnson said troopers recovered the bodies Saturday night.

The NTSB and Federal Aviation Administration spent nearly three hours at the site Sunday and are working on transporting the airplane to a location where they can examine it more closely.

Four people have died in small aircraft accidents in Alaska this year, according to FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer. Six people died in small plane crashes last year. Since 1994, such crashes have claimed 100 lives in Alaska. The most deaths in a single crash was 16, in 1995.

Dr. Franc Fallico, Alaska's acting chief medical examiner, said that both bodies were brought to Anchorage for positive identification. Only the body of the pilot would be autopsied, he said. But Fallico said it is unlikely that will occur until later in the week because there are only two medical examiners in Alaska and seven homicide victims awaiting autopsies.

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