In May of 2019, a Ravn plane landed so hard on the Quinhagak airstrip that it knocked off one of its landing wheels and scared the three passengers on board. Those passengers are suing Ravn, but Ravn blames the Native Village of Kwinhagak, which owns the airstrip, for the incident.
Myron Angstman is a Bethel-based lawyer representing the Ravn passengers. Two were adults, one was a child. He says that his clients are suing Hageland, the company that operates Ravn-owned planes in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, for causing bumps and bruises during a hard landing in the village of Quinhagak last year. But Angstman says that the biggest injury was psychological.
"Anyone who goes through one where the plane loses control and bounces and skids, or tips, or whatever happens understands that they are a very frightening experience, especially for people virtually required to get back on the plane in the near future and do it over again," Angstman said.
Ravn is the main airline service for Quinhagak. The tribe is the only one in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta that owns and operates its own airstrip, which means that the tribe is responsible for maintenance and repairs. The Quinhagak runway’s maintenance problems have been well-documented for years. The airport struggles with erosion, and last year planes couldn’t land at night because the runway lights were out.
According to the complaint filed by Angstman, a Ravn plane landed hard on the runway in May 2019 and lost its front wheel. Angstman’s complaint is seeking “non-economic damages.”
"In other words, there are no out-of-pocket expenses that we are going to be claiming," Angstman said.
Angstman said that he doesn’t have an amount for the damages his clients are seeking, which will become more clear as the case goes on.
The incident didn’t make it into the National Transportation Safety Board’s database, which NTSB Alaska Chief Clint Johnson says is reserved for accidents that leave substantial damage; landing gear malfunctions aren’t included. Attorneys representing Hageland filed a third-party complaint that blamed Quinhagak for the incident and denied that any injuries occurred during the hard landing. Ravn claims that Quinhagak’s long-standing maintenance issues were directly responsible for losing the wheel.
The same firm hired by Hageland is also representing another regional airline in a lawsuit against the company who runs Bethel’s control towers. A Grant Aviation plane crashed and burst into flames on the Bethel runway last summer. All five passengers and the pilot escaped with minor injuries.
Both lawsuits were filed after a NTSB report released Feb. 20 revealed that Alaska has twice as many aviation accidents as the rest of the country, and called on federal regulators to work with the state to improve aviation safety.
A recent newsletter from Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky, a Bethel Democrat, shows that Native Village of Kwinhagak President Darren Cleveland met with her about funding and safety needs for its airport.
The firm representing Hageland did not respond to requests for comment, and KYUK was unable to reach Quinhagak and the lawyer representing the tribe for comment.