NTSB notes that a witness says the crashed Alaska plane had smoke coming from the engine after takeoff

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A witness saw smoke billowing from one of the engines of an old military plane that crashed last week shortly after taking off on a fuel delivery flight to a remote Alaskan village, according to a preliminary crash report released Thursday .

The witness said that shortly after the plane took off from an airport in Fairbanks on April 23, he noticed that one of its engines was not running and that white smoke was coming from it, the National Transportation Safety Board report said. When the plane turned south, he saw that the engine was on fire, they say.

Not long after, the 54D-DC aircraft – a military version of the World War II-era Douglas DC-4 – crashed and burned, killing the two pilots.

Before the crash, one of the pilots told air traffic control that a fire had broken out on board and that he was trying to fly the 11 kilometers back to Fairbanks.

Surveillance video showed white smoke behind the engine, followed by flames, the report said. Seconds later, “a bright white explosion can be seen directly behind the first engine, followed by fragments of aircraft wreckage falling to the ground,” it said.

The approximately 80-year-old aircraft then began an uncontrolled descending left turn, causing the engine to separate from the wing.

The plane landed on a slope above the Tanana River and slid down to the bank, leaving a trail of debris behind. The engine, which remained on the frozen river, has been recovered and is undergoing a detailed examination, the report said. It is pointed out that a large part of the aircraft burned after the crash.

The probable cause of the crash will be disclosed in a future report.

The plane was carrying 3,400 gallons (12,870 liters) of unleaded fuel and two large propane tanks destined for the village of Kobuk, a small Inupiat community about 300 miles (480 kilometers) northwest of Fairbanks. Previous reports said the plane was carrying 3,200 gallons (12,113 liters) of fuel oil.

Air tankers provide fuel to many rural communities in Alaska, particularly those that are off-road and have no way for barges to reach them.

The state medical examiner's office has not yet positively identified the two people on board, Alaska Department of Public Safety spokesman Austin McDaniel said in an email Thursday.

The plane belonged to Alaska Air Fuel Inc., which had no immediate comment Thursday.


Thiessen reported from Anchorage, Alaska.

Anna Harden

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