Alaska Pilot Sentenced For Floatplane Assault

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An Alaska pilot was fined $25,000 last week and given probation and restitution after being charged with felony assault for striking a man in a boat while buzzing him in a De Havilland DHC-2 Beaver floatplane. The incident happened on the Mulchatna River near Dillingham in June 2014. The victim survived but suffered permanent brain damage.

In sentencing the pilot, 38-year-old Benjamin Hancock, Superior Court Judge Christina Reigh said she considered the kind of reckless flying Hancock engaged in to be a serious problem in rural Alaska. According to a report by KTVA-TV, Reigh said the fine would send a message to pilots that there could be serious consequences for reckless conduct.

Hancock, and the victim, Travis Finkenbinder, knew each other and were friends. Finkenbinder and another man were moving boats down the river when Hancock buzzed them in the DHC-2. The pilot, whose certificate has been revoked, initially said a downdraft caused him to fly lower than he intended. But the NTSB said in its final report on the accident that investigators found the accident was caused by Hancock’s “improper decision … to fly in deliberately in close proximity to the boat operators.”