Dutch Harbor crash aftermath disrupts crab season

Port operations are slowly returning to normal after the Oct. 17 air crash at the Unalaska-Dutch Harbor airport, but regular passenger flights between it and Anchorage remained suspended Wednesday amid the continuing investigation into the accident that killed a passenger.

Some cargo and charter flights resumed when the runway at Tom Madsen Airport reopened at 6 p.m. Saturday, according to city officials. It’s not clear when full passenger air service will resume — a major disruption at the start of the Bering Sea crabbing season.

On Monday Alaska Airlines announced that it and operator Ravn Air Group, whose PenAir flights are marketed by Alaska Airlines, had temporarily suspended service between the Aleutian hub and Anchorage “in the interest of safety.” Airline officials said they were working to “determine a timeline for resuming service,” but also said customers who purchased tickets on or before Oct. 17 for travel through Oct. 28 can request a refund by calling Alaska Airlines at 888-885-0155.

That could complicate travel for fishermen returning in the Bering Sea crab fleet, where around 50 vessels, each carrying five to six crew, have been working since mid-October.

“Most of our fleet is out on the grounds. We’ve already got crab coming in,” said Jamie Goen, executive director of Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, an industry association based in Seattle. “We can catch our quota in about two weeks.”

The fleet had a tough start to the season with weather, as the remnants of Typhoon Hagibis sweept across the North Pacific. That delayed the first day opening somewhat, and there are more rough conditions this week, said Goen.

At the airport, the wrecked Saab 2000 aircraft was removed from a harbor bank at the end of the runway with cranes and a barge Saturday, and brought by salvage contractor Resolve Magone Marine to its Ballyhoo Road yard, in an operation overseen by state and local officials and the National Transportation Safety Board.

The twin turboprop was landing at 5:40 p.m. Thursday when it overran the runway and stopped just short of the water. Passenger David Allen Altman, 38, a construction worker from Wenatchee, Wash., died from injuries in the crash and several others were injured.

NTSB investigators secured the aircraft flight data recorder and sent it to the agency’s Washington, D.C., headquarters for analysis. Alaska Public Media reported that former owners of PenAir and other pilots questioned whether the Saab 2000 crew might have been beset by tailwinds on landing, but noted that other possible causes must be considered.

The accident came days after the Oct. 15 start of the Bering Sea crab season, as fishermen got to work toward a 3.8 million pound total allowable catch, the lowest in years.  

 

About the author

Kirk Moore

Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been a field editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for almost 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.

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