NTSB publishes preliminary report on the Yute Commuter Service plane fire
A Yute Commuter Service plane caught fire and burned on the Bethel runway on Nov. 20. Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) were in Bethel this week to investigate the cause of the fire.
NTSB Alaska Chief Clint Johnson said that the safety board has not yet identified the cause of the fire.
“I can tell you that it didn't have anything to do as far as the contents of the airplane,” Johnson said. “We're looking more at the mechanical or the technical side of the airplane itself.”
Johnson and his team traveled to Bethel on Dec. 6 to collect parts of the plane where the fire could have started. Johnson said that those parts have been sent to Washington D.C. for forensic analysis.
“Typically, in a case like this, we allow probably nine months to a year to finish a report," Johnson said. “However, if there's a safety or flight issue that needs to be addressed beforehand that could affect other airplanes out there, we will do an interim report to get that information out to the public.”
He said that initial testing of the plane’s parts should be complete later this week, which should provide a clearer direction on the NTSB’s investigation.
The NTSB published a preliminary report on Dec. 8 which provides a closer look at the events leading up to the fire. According to the report, mere moments separated the passengers’ safe evacuation and the plane being engulfed in flames.
Around 5:55 p.m on Nov. 20, a Yute Commuter Service Cessna 207 left Bethel headed for Kwethluk. The pilot and five passengers were on board.
According to the report, the pilot noticed that the plane’s emergency locator transmitter had turned on shortly after taking off. He started to smell what he described as "an electrical burn smell." A minute later, there was smoke in the cockpit. The pilot turned the plane around and flew back to Bethel. On the return journey, he turned off the plane’s electrical switch and opened the window to clear out the smoke.
After landing in Bethel, the pilot reported seeing a candle-like flame rising up from the floorboards of the plane just behind the pilots’ seat. The report stated, “moments after all the passengers and pilot had exited the airplane, it was immediately engulfed in flames.”