Ronald Pritchard 08/24/91 Hunter, Plane Crash
Lloyd H. Jones 08/24/91 Hunter, Plane Crash
Robert Works 08/24/91 Hunter, Plane Crash

3 Die In Eklutna Plane Crash, One Passenger Survives After Being Pinned Overnight In Aircraft
By Pamela Doto, ADN 08/24/91

Three people were killed Thursday and another was later rescued after their Cessna 172 plowed into a mountain north of Eklutna Lake while they were looking at sheep, according to investigators.

The four-seater plane left Merrill Field at 7:14 p.m. after pilot Ronald Pritchard, 22, rented the aircraft from Flight Safety Alaska.

When the plane didn't return, Pritchard's girlfriend reported it overdue at 7:30 a.m. Friday.  Officials think the plane crashed about 7:40 p.m. Thursday, leaving the sole survivor 29-year-old Anchorage resident Carey Briton pinned in the wreckage more than 14 hours.

The plane was discovered shortly after 8 p.m. during flights by Flight Safety Alaska, owned by Joe Wilbur, and the Civil Air Patrol.  Killed were Pritchard of Anchorage, Lloyd H. Jones, 27, of Anchorage; Robert Works, 26 of Casper, Wyo.

Briton was pulled from the wreckage of the single-engine plane that was wedged in rocks at the 3,750-foot level of the mountain by Air National Guard rescuers.

Briton told National Transportation Safety Board investigators a few hours after her rescue that the group was spotting sheep when they suddenly slammed into the mountain.

"They were basically looking at sheep to the left.  They turned around and the mountain was there," said Jim Michelangelo, head of the NTSB in Anchorage.

The plane's emergency locator beacon, which alerts Elmendorf's rescue center when an aircraft is in trouble, sounded early Friday.

Planes flying near the wreckage initially thought no one survived.  But an Air National Guard helicopter made a low pass toward the blue-and-white craft and saw Briton waving her arm from where she was trapped inside the plane.

The MH-60 Pavehawk chopper landed about 75 yards above the crash site to rescue her.

"She was a real tough woman," Guard Tech. Sgt. Eric Sachs said.  "She had a real will to live."

One of the plane's wings and the wheel were stuck in rocks at a 45-degree angle on the mountain, about four miles east of the Chugach Park campground.  Fuel was leaking from the crushed craft, and Briton was pinned inside the rear of the plane.

"She was wedged in there.  It took a fair amount of time to get her out of there," Sachs said.  "We were scared the airplane would slide loose."  Sachs and Tech. Sgt. Patrick Malone tore off the door of the plane and gingerly removed Briton, carrying her to the chopper above. 

She was conscious and talked through the ordeal, Sachs said.

"She was just cold and scared," he said.  "She had been through a lot and wanted to get out of there."

Briton, who had internal and leg injuries, was in critical but stable condition at Humana Hospital-Alaska after five hours of surgery Friday afternoon.

Troopers spent three hours removing the bodies from the wreckage, which brings to 16 the number of people killed this month in airplanes.  For last August, that figure was 11.

"Everybody at the FAA is . . . concerned is not a strong enough word for this," FAA spokeswoman Joette Storm said.

Notices will be sent out to air-taxi services warning them to be cautious during the coming weeks of hunting season when the rate of accidents are high.  On Sept. 1, passengers will be able to call a number 1-800-478-SAFE to report pilots seen taking too many chances, a move not supported by the air- taxi industry, according to Michelangelo.

Michelangelo said Pritchard was a certified pilot.  But of the past 20 accidents and crashes, seven pilots were not properly certified and nine of the planes simply ran out of fuel, he said.

The group in Thursday's crash had gone to Eklutna to spot sheep for a hunt they had planned this weekend, according to Carolyn Allen who worked with Lloyd Jones at UPS.

At noon, Jones' co-workers were told of the well-liked man's death by their supervisor and allowed to go home, she said.  "We really couldn't focus on work," she said. "We were in shock."

Allen waited for word of Briton's condition at Humana Friday evening while the woman's parents flew to Alaska from Wyoming.

Jones and Briton, who moved to Anchorage from Wyoming about a year ago, liked the outdoors and always planned weekend trips together. Jones was especially fond of adventure, Allen said.

"He was the key man for Alaska," she said.  "He wanted to do it all.  Where he went, she went."

Works, a law student, was a good friend of Jones' and was visiting from Wyoming.  He had planned to return home soon.

"This was their last excursion," she said.