Witness: Jet Hit Water, Flew Away, Before Crashing

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An Albatros L-39 jet that crashed in Alaska last month may have hit the water two miles from its target airport three times after descending under low clouds in poor visibility, according to a preliminary report by the NTSB. The ATP-rated pilot was trying to execute an instrument approach at the Ketchikan International Airport, shortly after noon local time, and had reported to a Flight Service Station that he had the airfield in sight although one witness (a pilot) estimated visibility at three-quarters of a mile. The NTSB says the "pilot-rated witness" saw the airplane descend from the clouds about 200 feet above the waters of the Tongass Narrows, about two miles from the crash site. The witness said the Albatros, with landing gear down, descended at a high rate at about a 20- to 25-degree angle to the surface of the water, about 200 yards from shore. The airplane struck the surface twice, each time gaining about 10 feet, before skipping on the surface for a third time. The first two water impacts produced an extensive spray of water that obscured the witness's view of the airplane. The airplane then gained altitude and climbed out of his line of sight. The pilot ejected from the jet before the crash, but not all the rockets ignited and the pilot did not survive.

Several witnesses aboard a ferry on the Tongass Narrows reported seeing a large splash in the water three-quarters to one mile in front of the vessel. They thought the splash was a whale, but due to the limited visibility of one-half to three-quarters of a mile, none reported seeing or hearing an airplane. After the water impact, other witnesses on shore reported seeing the airplane at treetop level over the town of Ketchikan and hearing engine sounds, but then noted the engine stopped making any sound. The L-39, a surplus military warbird built in the Czech Republic, had been issued a special ferry permit by an inspector with the Van Nuys FSDO in California to make a flight from Anchorage to Seattle. The ferry permit was signed by an FAA certificated mechanic, certifying that the airplane was safe for a ferry flight.