The pilot of a Ryan Navion has been criminally indicted by a federal jury in Alaska in relation to the crash of a Ryan Navion that killed one person and injured him and two others in 2014. The pilot, Forest Kirst, 60, has been charged with piloting an aircraft without a valid airmen’s certificate and two counts of obstructing an NTSB investigation. If convicted, the US Attorney for the District of Alaska says Kirst faces up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The charges stem from an accident in Atigun Pass in the Brooks Range.
The pilot’s continually shifting pre-accident narrative drew special attention from the NTSB’s accident investigators. According to the NSTB report, “the pilot initially reported to first responders that he had encountered a severe downdraft while approaching the high mountain pass, which caused the airplane to lose altitude.” The NTSB concluded that meteorological conditions at the time of the accident did not suggest a likelihood of severe downdrafts, though the passengers did report a dropping sensation immediately prior to the crash. Two weeks after the accident, the pilot blamed loss of control on a front seat passenger collapsing onto the controls as a result of motion sickness drugs. The backseat passengers were allegedly unresponsive at this time. “None of the three passengers recalled this, and the front seat passenger was found with his seatbelt and shoulder harness on when first responders arrived on scene,” said accident investigators. Two months after the accident, the pilot wrote to investigators to say that a propeller blade had separated in flight, contrary to his post-accident interview. After exhaustive analysis, the NTSB concluded that the propeller blade had broken during impact with terrain.
The US Attorney alleges that Kirst has been seen flying since his license was subject to emergency revocation following the accident—the second federal charge. The NTSB report made news when it was first published by citing lack of FAA oversight as a factor in the accident given Kirst’s prior record of accidents, incidents, andcheckride failures.