No Certificated Pilots Aboard Taylorcraft That Crashed In Alaska


Neither man aboard a Taylorcraft BC-12D that crashed in Six Mile Lake in southern Alaska May 17 had a pilot certificate, and authorities have found no evidence that they ever did according to the NTSB’s preliminary report. The aircraft took off from Port Alsworth Airport headed to Nondalton Airport, 24 miles away, with David Hedgers, 58, at the controls and Aaron Fryar, 45, listed as a passenger. Both died in the crash. Clint Johnson, the NTSB’s senior representative in Alaska, told Alaska Public Media that neither his agency nor the FAA has found any record of pilot, student pilot or medical certificates for either man. “At this point right now, all indications are that neither one of these occupants were certified pilots,” Johnson said.

Still it’s not clear if lack of credentials played a role in the accident, Johnson said. “We don’t know what the training was, what the decision-making was,” Johnson said. “The basic answer to that question is, we don’t know what kind of training the pilot had because he never received the pilot’s certificate.” The weather was bad with low clouds with fog and reduced visibility. The plane was found in shallow water about 3 miles from Nondalton. Acquaintances of the two men told investigators Hedgers had recently bought the plane.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. At first glance to this article’s headline, I assumed that the T- Craft impacted ” empty ” and devoid of any human beings aboard.
    I was already thinking of ” Here goes another youtuber bailing out for thumbs up clicks.”
    Come to find out from first read– that possibly one of the 2 occupants onboard had a ” YouTube ” orientation to flying a T-Cart [ there are many posted] and felt they did not need any certificate and proper flight instruction.


    Probably more to come out on this story.

    Maybe one had a Canadian certificate [ it is Alaska ] or who knows what.

    Or maybe it is a case of 2 individuals that felt that FlightSim and YouTube was the way to go ..

    • I think adding “certificated” or “licensed” to the title would provide more clarity as I inferred the same meaning.

  2. you gotta remember this is Alaska… no roads most places…
    your passengers usually have many more flight hours than the air taxi pilots, they know what’s going on…
    there’s no FAA out there to ask for a piece of paper out in the villages…
    you don’t need to register a car, or insure a car, or have a drivers license … or a plane for that mater…

    • It’s just not Alaska, I was on a volunteer FD years ago in West Texas. Massive wildland fire and my plane was back in Amarillo. Our chief said, I know an ole boy who has a plane in his shed, so off we go. As the “ole boy” and I were airborne he said what do you do for a living, Aircraft Inspector was my reply. Damn, you ain’t with the FAA are you I haven’t had my license for years.

      Great I’m at 5500 msl telling our ground crews where to go and this nut case tells me he is not valid. Retired Marine so forgive me for my language as I chewed his ass out. A few weeks later he found out that Dept of Ag was going to help with the wildfire expenses. He sends our FD a bill for $300 for use of his plane. I FWD it to the FAA.

      • So did the FAA contact him or revoke his license ? “I haven’t had my license for years” might be interpreted as he had let his medical lapse or had even been revoked previously.

  3. I did my seaplane rating in a Taylorcraft BC-12D on straight floats. There was barely enough useful load for two 200 lb pilots and 1 hour of fuel. I noticed in the photo what looked like 35″ tundra tires. Wonder if they were trying to water ski before landing on a gravel bar at Six Mile Lake. I don’t know if there are places on Six Mile Lake that you can try that but I’ve always wondered how many planes have been flipped trying it unsuccessfully.

  4. The final scene of the movie “Second Hand Lions” comes to mind. Two gents bought a Stearman, read the book of instructions, and wound up crashing into a barn. Great movie, by the way.

  5. Flown Alaska and anything goes, it’s a matter of necessity. Seen planes looking to be cannibalized for parts and some guy will come out and fly it home. IFR (I Follow Roads) commonplace in bad weather where one guy will be flying over the road at tree top with landing light on and another coming the opposite direction below the tree tops. Do the weight and balance of a dressed mouse in a cub, everyone flys over gross. Think of the aerodynamics of carrying a canoe or 4’x8’ piece of plywood on your floats. Take issue with any of this might find yourself shot to death and your body thrown into the wilderness for the bears. That’s the last frountier.

    • Quite true. When I visited Alaska I was careful on who my wife and I went with for a sightseeing ride to Denali park. There is a museum of Alaska aviation at Lake Hood in Anchorage with a display on how the FAA tried to enforce lower 48 rules and how the local politicians got the FAA to back off. Not trying to justify these kind of actions, just pointing out that is the way it is. Even the late Senator Stevens died in an aviation accident in his home state.

  6. At my airport in the rural Great Plains, a Taylorcraft crashed and pilot who had just purchased the plane had no pilot certificate. Pilot survived but FAA did nothing. Not uncommon to find airplanes on farms and ranches with no annual inspection, and pilots with no medical, no flight review, and no pilot certificate.

    • That’s the way things used to be, JS. I’ve even heard of airline pilots doing this. These guys weren’t flying a 737 and ultimately paid with their lives. End of story.

  7. Everyone knows that a plane can’t be flown safely without a pilots license. :-/

    Even the NTSB report waited until the second ‘graph to mention the lack of FAA credentials. To make it your lede gives that piece of paper far more import than the myriad factors that could have actually caused that crash and fatalities. Suggest that a more appropriate place would have been the second sentence of the second ‘graph.

  8. When I read the title, I thought … “Little green guys nabbed the occupants.” THEN I find out it was just a matter of certification. Oh well …

  9. Yaaaawn……this is not uncommon in Alaska at all. My good friend who lived in TOK had over 700 hours in his C-170 on floats and he never had a license, only a few hours of lessons up through solo. He flew routinely to his cabin on a lake, and took friends and family to Fairbanks for doctor’s appointments, grocery runs etc.

  10. With credit to Maxwell Stanley, like a J3, even a Taylorcraft can just barely kill you.

  11. There have been various stories over the years about persons who had never actually had pilot licences, flying airliners till they were exposed.
    These guys were exposed in a more forthright manner!
    An increasing number of persons these days refuse to accept government rules; in this case; Darwin’s rules came into play.

  12. Not the first time the headline was misleading. They do it to get you to click. It’s the journalistic equivalent of reckless flying.

      • The headline implies that the aircraft was flown empty (no people), not that there were people but just not certificated. Yes, it is misleading (or clickbait)

        • Disagree. Clickbait is an intentional thing. We expressly reject it. And the headline implies nothing beyond what it accurately states. I can’t control your interpretation of it.

  13. I guess all other accidents had licensed pilots behind the windshield… It’s the knowledge and the skills we must examine, not just the paperwork. Let’s be different from the FAA…

  14. Back in my student days (way back…), we had a local farmer with an absolutely pristine T-Craft who had (perhaps) a student certificate. He kept his airplane on his farm and flew regularly with and without passengers. By all accounts, he was an excellent pilot and his passengers were ready and willing to fly with him. No incidents, accidents, complaints, or FAA intervention in this very rural area. I’m NOT endorsing or excusing such behavior, but he was a much better aviator than most of the certificated pilots at the airport where I flew (and I won’t say whether I personally witnessed anything, nor will I admit to flying with him). Those were different times…

    I wish I had his airplane now… it was a showpiece!

  15. Years ago I was told about one of the principals at a local charter company flying trips in a King Air 200 without a pilot license. This was at my home field in CT 20 years ago, and the company is no longer in business. (shocker) While it sounds incredulous that someone would attempt it, the story was corroborated by the owner of another charter company at the time. Apparently the guy didn’t lose his license, he just never had one.

  16. My gut feeling is that the flying person had received some training. Perhaps up through first solo and then thought, “Good enough.” He may have been flying for years who knows? But I agree with others who found the article title “click-baity”.

  17. Russ — Since you asked twice, I’ll offer my response. “No pilots aboard” is not factual. There were two persons aboard, and since the aircraft left terra firma and became airborne, we know that there was at least one person piloting the aircraft, so there was at least one pilot. You do explain that these persons were unlicensed, at least by the FAA. Certainly, one can pilot an aircraft without a license. We can read of such cases when brought by the FAA. My guess is the same thing happens in Canada. How many military pilots never bother to get a civilian license? How many move to this country with some flying knowledge, skill or experience, but do not get a license from the FAA? So, saying “no pilots” was incorrect. The audience here is more detail-oriented that that for many other publications, and I find the audience reaction unsurprising.

    • Details are important and it’s best to get them right. Pilot is a title earned through training and qualification and not by the simple act of manipulating the controls. You can render first aid to someone who is injured but no one is going to call you Doctor while you’re doing it.
      Collins and Webster have identical definitions for Pilot: “A pilot is a person who is trained to fly an aircraft.”
      I respectfully reiterate that there were no pilots on that T-craft.

      • I have to disagree, Russ. The pilot is the person who flew the airplane. Assuming the “licensed” part arises because our brains have been so subsumed by the miasma of bureaucratic regulation. A plane with no pilot would be an unpiloted airplane, which is something different.

        • I refer you to my doctor argument. A pilot is trained and certified. I don’t know what you call those two unfortunate fellows but they most certainly were not pilots.

          • Come on Russ, you’re holding the wrong end of the stick Mate. If you rendered me first aid, I likely won’t call you doctor but I also won’t want to see your medical training record or certification; I’d just be glad you stopped the bleeding.
            Admit it, it was catchy title to the piece. It drew me in and along with the numerous comments adds to my knowledge base and helps in reassuring me again that some risks are not worth taking even though I would have less that two thirds of stuff all respect for the incompetent bureaucracy that pretty much infects and detrimentally impacts most of what I do in life.

          • If you’re going to quote Collins and Webster, then please respect them. As you said, C & W have identical definitions for Pilot: “A pilot is a person who is trained to fly an aircraft.”

            Note the distinct lack of any certification reference.

  18. Lynn Jones – so, if I drive a boat around a pond I’m a boat captain? I build a birdhouse, that makes me a carpenter? Does installing Christmas lights make me an electrician?

    THERE WERE NO PILOTS ON BOARD. And there were no pilots on board because “pilot” can be a noun AND a verb in this case they’re using it as a noun – a person, place, or thing. you’re treating it as a verb – something you do.

    Source: Self; a trained, experienced, certified, rated pilot who earned the title by doing the thousands of hours required to do so and also attended some English courses somewhere, probably.

  19. C’mon Mr. Niles, so just admit that you kinda like the “plot twist” made by the misleading title “No Pilots Aboard Taylorcraft That Crashed In Alaska”. Where the leading initial thought would of course be that the aircraft impacted empty of the people originally piloting the AC or even that it was a ground start runaway. Even if maybe unintentional, it shames the unlucky deceased individuals flying in IMC and slighting their families evidently for their stupidity?

  20. There seems to be an assumption here that these guys died because at least one didn’t have a pilots license and that the required training entailed in that would have prevented this tragedy. I respectfully point out that if you switch over to the NTSB site and look up the accidents reported there, that you will find literally thousands of aircraft accidents ,with likely 99% of the “pilots” being certified. I don’t know either of these guys, so this could be a situation where one or both of them went out and bought a plane and watched a couple of YOU Tube videos and took off. Most likely though ,is that one or both have been flying all over the bush out there for many years and had the skills needed and likely did it well. Just off the top of my head I can think of numerous incidents up here in Alaska where very good, highly trained and experienced pilots have done the same thing and flown from MVFR into IMC and paid for it with their lives and the lives of passengers. The process of getting and keeping a pilot certification in the bush for a person in one of the villages is onerous at best and maintaining aircraft out there is extremely hard. And yes Mr. Niles, I have to say that your heavy implication that this happened because there wasn’t a piece of paper in one of their pockets is unfair to them and their families. Think back to last year when one of the highest trained and experienced men and safety specialist with AOPA died in a plane crash where he had access to the controls and to the pilot next to him to control the situation, yet they crashed and died.

    • Says in the story that the NTSB hasn’t determined if the lack of certificates is a factor and cited the crappy weather.

  21. I’m going to have to agree with the peanut gallery on this one. The headline should be “No Certificated Pilots”, not “No Pilots’.


    • I’m digging in on this one because accuracy is important and the headline is accurate.

      • Reminds me of a journalism teacher I had who used the National Enquirer as an example of how to stick to the literal truth but still essentially say what you wanted to.

        • Meant to add that the journalism studies I referred to was a six week unit in high school English class.

          • When I was a young city hall reporter I had two stories bought by he Enquirer. They barely touched them. Maybe I just have a knack:)

  22. Gotta admit, as a former newspaper editor, I had a brief mental picture of an empty T-craft plummeting into the lake. Then I read the article and found that the two guys on board, weren’t toting little pieces of federally-issued paper. Not the same thing.

  23. There’s a saying, “A fool and his life are soon parted.” –or something like that. Years ago, I was working as the Production Designer on a film scheduled to be shot in Alaska. Accordingly, the director, the producer, the cinematographer and I along with some others were shipped to Alaska to scout potential location sites. One day, we were scheduled to fly to a distant location to scout out what each of our disciplines would need. We showed up early for our helicopter ride. From the airport, the weather seemed to be clear enough, almost CAVU. We could even see the mountain range we would have to cross miles away from the airport. It was cloudy at its very top, but clear at the bottom. Our pilot seemed reluctant at first, but our director was eager to go. He had our producer change the pilot’s mind with a bundle of cash. Our pilot, director, the first, and our producer loaded up. The helicopter was full, so our Cinematographer and I and another crew member stayed back to be picked up later. What happened was that they never returned. While the sky near us remained relatively clear, the ceiling in the mountains had lowered just enough by the time our group reached the mountains that the helicopter became IFR– which at the time, helicopters were not equipped to deal with. The helicopter entered, and was unable to climb out into clear air. It crashed taking everyone inside with it. It was a lesson I never forgot. The film was ultimately cancelled.

  24. Sounds like Russ is having a tough time admitting that the Title was a bit “incomplete”. Adding the word “Certificated” to the Title would have eliminated 80% of the comments. Just sayin!

  25. Once in Texas I was waiting for the sky to clear. A scud running 182 flew in and taxied up to the hanger next to mine. Talking with the pilot he asked where I was headed. Up to Boerne for an annual I said. Is that a good place? he asked, adding, I think it’s been about six years since I last got one. I often wondered about his medical and flight reviews.

  26. 90% of automobile accidents are caused by licensed drivers.

    I bet the percentages are higher for licensed pilots.

  27. The grips about the headline remind me of one of my customers plane taking off without anyone on board. It was a tcraft also in south Naknek. He was hand propping it and flooded it an opened throttle and it started and flew away. Luckily it never claimed and hit in the alder bushes. Didn’t hurt it he said. He said that was a helpless feeling watching your plane fly away. I always make sure it’s tied down if hand propping after that

  28. So, many of you think than this plane started, took off, climbed out, was on track, flew 1/2 way to IT’s destination, in a Taylorcraft BC-12D, with NO ONE on board?????

  29. Not funny! Expected to read about a plane that got away or somebody parachuted out of it only to read that two lives were lost. A bit more respectful reporting would be appreciated.

  30. “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” A collision between strict definition and common usage. I admire Russ’s aviation journalism, but I think he got blindsided on this one, by either not noticing the click bait quality of his headline (understandable), or choosing to ignore it (continued VFR into IMC). The wagons are circled, surrounded by mounted warriors; what’ll it be, massacre or standoff?

  31. I’m with Russ. These guys were flying the aircraft, or trying to, but they were not “pilots”. Big difference.

    • “Avoiding the confusion” requires recognizing the potential for it in the first place. I think this one sneaked up and bit him in a tender area a lot of us “grey eagles” have in common. Been there myself. “Clickbait”? “WTF?”

    • I would normally have just changed the headline but something about this one stuck. I’ll admit I’ve enjoyed the debate.

    • Not true. Based on the standards of the day, they were pilots and it didn’t come easy for them.

  32. FAA= Forget About Alaska. All this got me thinking that anywhere in the Lower 48 a crash like this would trigger a multitude of legal and insurance actions. I wonder how for example the professionals and experts in these fields would define and apply the word “pilot”. And given that neither person in the T-cart was a pilot as defined by the FAA but it is possible for either to be sole manipulator of the controls, who was “in control”? I now believe that FAA as an agency is wise to Forget About Alaska. Old Charlie Darwin had the right idea.

  33. Russ, you 100% know you’re full of s**t.
    Who ever is in control of the plane IS the pilot, license or no license. That plane crashed with a pilot onboard.

    • Sure it does. I’m an accredited journalist with a publication whose business is disseminating journalism. You can argue whether I’m a good or bad journalist but you can’t argue that I am one. As for the transitive verb definition, the key phrase is “acts as.” I can act as a ship’s captain by steering the boat but that doesn’t make me a ship’s captain which I will continue to argue is a title and not a role.

      • Why do you keep mentioning boats, I thought we were talking aviation.
        I’ll bring up cars then, according to your argument if I am behind the wheel of a car, steering, braking accelerating, if I don’t have a license, I’m not the driver. What would you call me?
        I’ll ask another question, knowing nothing else about the person or situation, you see an airplane land, it taxis past you, what would you call that person behind the controls?

          • Congratulations, DMan. I am unable to counter your argument and I have changed the headline. I’m not sure why I was so pigheaded about this one. I think it’s because of the click bait allegations. We never try to misrepresent anything so that pissed me off.
            Regardless of the finer points of usage and grammar that were explored in all these exchanges, the object of everything we do is offer clarity and clearly this missed the mark.
            Thanks for the thoughtful and (mostly) respectful discussion.

          • It’s been a hoot. I apologize for any disrespect. It can be a tricky balance, trying to be cheeky and witty, without just being a d**k. You handled everything like a champ.

            Until next time.

            I’ll see you at the Edge of the Earth.

  34. I have to agree with Russ on this one. In my opinion it is an excellent headline. It is not misleading: it just has two possible meanings, and the details are in the article. That might not be a plus for a heading in a legal brief, but it is great for a journalist’s headline. If I were his editor (and none of us are), I would give him extra points for being entertaining, wry, and thought provoking. Good job, Russ. Illegitimi non carborundum.

  35. I have a few minutes before dinner, so…

    Criticism and Comments Against the Title:

    Frank Tino: Misleading, assumed the aircraft crashed empty.
    Marc R: Suggested adding “certificated” or “licensed” for clarity.
    Larry S: Misleading, thought it referred to an empty aircraft.
    Aviatrexx: Suggested moving the lack of FAA credentials mention to the second paragraph.
    Billy Bob: Highlighted that uncertified flying is not uncommon in Alaska.
    Lynn Jones: Argued that anyone flying the aircraft is a pilot, regardless of certification.
    Rick F: Accused the title of being misleading for clicks.
    Gwen Walcott: Thought the headline implied the aircraft was empty.
    Javier Lifa: Emphasized the importance of knowledge and skills over paperwork.
    David FitzGerald: Felt the title was misleading and shamed the deceased.
    J.D.: Argued that lack of certification doesn’t necessarily mean lack of skill.
    Brenton Ellis: Suggested “No Certificated Pilots” as a clearer title.
    Larry Barr: Found the title initially misleading.
    Rick Ewart: Suggested adding “Certificated” to the title to reduce confusion.
    Jay Williams: Noted that most commenters found the title misleading.
    DMan: Asserted that anyone flying the aircraft is the pilot, certified or not.
    Tom Waarne: Suggested more respectful reporting.
    Wolfgang Hokenmaier: Expected to read about an empty plane based on the title.
    Be02drvr: Highlighted the miscommunication between strict definition and common usage.
    Raf Sierra: Believed the title could have been more precise to avoid confusion.
    The main criticism against the title is that it is misleading and suggests the aircraft was empty, causing confusion among readers. Commenters argue that anyone flying the aircraft, regardless of certification, is a pilot. Many suggest that adding “certificated” or “licensed” would provide clarity and reduce misunderstandings. Despite the backlash, Russ Niles stands by his title, emphasizing the distinction between being a trained, certified pilot and merely manipulating the aircraft’s controls.

    Can Russ Niles be inprecise and could he have improve the claroty of the title?
    Yes, Russ Niles could have been more precise and improved the clarity of the title. Here are a few points that support this:

    Ambiguity: The original title “No Pilots Aboard Taylorcraft That Crashed In Alaska” can lead readers to assume that the aircraft was unoccupied or that no one was controlling it at the time of the crash. This misinterpretation is evident from several reader comments.

    Certification Specificity: By not specifying “certificated” or “licensed” pilots in the title, it fails to clearly convey that the individuals lacked the official credentials, rather than being absent from the aircraft.

    Potential Improved Titles:

    “No Licensed Pilots Aboard Taylorcraft That Crashed In Alaska”
    “No Certificated Pilots Aboard Taylorcraft That Crashed In Alaska”
    “Uncertificated Individuals Aboard Taylorcraft That Crashed In Alaska”

    These alternative titles would have conveyed the essential information more clearly, reducing the likelihood of confusion and making the article’s premise more transparent from the outset.

    By refining the title in this way, Russ Niles could have maintained the accuracy of his reporting while also ensuring that the headline accurately reflected the article’s content, thereby improving reader comprehension and reducing the perception of clickbait. Ouchy!!

  36. Maybe AVweb can put the headline question on the weekly poll
    “Was Russ’s original headline click-bait?” Yes / no / maybe / other

  37. You know it’s good headline and article when it generates more comments than the article itself. I enjoyed its thought provoking contents.