On June 18, 2024 a Piper PA-18 Super Cub (FAA Registration Number N645DT) crashed into Crescent Lake, located approximately 80 miles south of Anchorage on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. The aircraft sunk in deep water. The flight instructor and student rated pilot did not escape and were found two days later when the wreckage was retrieved. Two hikers apparently witnessed the crash and reported it at 2:10 p.m. to Alaska State Troopers. While responders by air arrived at 3:30 p.m., they spotted wreckage debris but no signs of survivors. Two days later the main fuselage wreckage was retrieved 193 feet below the surface. Our hearts go out to the families of the deceased: flight instructor Paul Kondrat and fellow pilot Mark “Tyson” Sletten.

Photo of the accident aircraft docked at Moose Lake.
Published with permission of the photographer – the Jeroen Stroes.

Because of very limited radar and satellite coverage for low flights in the mountainous area of Moose Pass, Alaska, there is very little, if any, publicly available flight data information.  It is reported that the seaplane instruction flight had departed Trail Lake at Moose Pass and was scheduled to return later to the same location. The elevation of Trail Lake is 450 feet above sea level. The aircraft ultimately flew to nearby Crescent Lake, elevation 1450 feet, where the accident occurred.

An early comment by the NTSB reported that there were at least two witnesses who saw the accident. Since the witnesses were still out hiking in the backcountry, the NTSB had not yet interviewed them. Obviously, what these witnesses saw may be critical to the investigation, especially if there is no flight data information and if the wreckage is compromised or some parts are not located.

The accident aircraft, N645DT, is a PA-18-150 aircraft which is a Super Cub with the larger 150 horsepower Lycoming O-320 engine. The aircraft was operated by Alaska Seaplane Ratings, which, according to the Alaska Secretary of State, is a DBA (doing business as) name for Scenic Mountain Air, Inc., an Alaska registered corporation located in Moose Pass, Alaska. Scenic Mountain Air is listed as being owned by Northern Lights Ventures, LLC, also an Alaska company. The ownership of this company is split between three members, two individuals and a Utah company named Alaska Getaways, LLC. Interestingly, this same operator and aircraft was involved in a non-fatal accident in 2019.

Image of 2019 accident site involving the same aircraft and operator. Source: NTSB

ALG attorneys have handled many seaplane accident cases in Alaska, Washington, and British Columbia. More recently we were extensively involved in a seaplane mid-air collision involving two De Havilland seaplanes near Ketchikan, Alaska.

In our experience, while many seaplane accidents occur during the landing and takeoff phase of flight, those accidents, even if they involve an aircraft flipping upside down in the water, they remain at the surface, at least for some time, because at least one if not both floats retain their buoyancy.  Thus, in this case, if there were a problem during takeoff or landing on Crescent Lake, we would normally expect the seaplane to stay afloat. A wreckage inspection will help determine why this did not happen here.

ALG has also handled many accidents involving instructional flights. All ALG attorneys are or have previously been FAA Certified Flight Instructors and have been employed teaching flight students. They are very familiar with flight school and instructional flight operations from both experience and in handling instruction flight accidents.

A second factor that comes up in many seaplane accidents is survivability. There have been numerous studies by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada and the NTSB related to survivability in seaplane accidents. That means that the occupants survive the accident on water, but subsequently are unable to safely egress the seaplane fuselage to avoid drowning. ALG attorneys have worked with industry experts, and given numerous legal and safety presentations, about seaplane safety and survivability factors related to seaplane accidents.

ALG attorney Robert Hedrick obtained his seaplane rating in a Piper PA-18 Cub that was on straight floats, similar to N645DT. He has also flown a C-172 on floats.

If you were a witness to this accident, we would like to talk to you. Please contact us at hedrick@aviationlawgroup.com or call: 206 251-5915.