ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The survivor of a midair collision in Alaska last week that killed her boyfriend, who was piloting the other plane, managed to land her badly damaged aircraft as it slowed dangerously to near stall-speed, according to a preliminary report released Thursday by the National Transportation Safety Board.
Kristen Sprague told an NTSB investigator she thought her Cessna 207 would crash after the aircraft's right wing was struck by a Cessna 208B Caravan flown by her 24-year-old boyfriend, Scott Veal, of Kenai.
For Sprague, "this could have been a lot worse," the investigator, Clint Johnson, told The Associated Press.
Veal was killed when the collision severed the vertical stabilizer and rudder on the Caravan's tail, sending the plane into a nosedive into the tundra nine miles north of the western Alaska village of Nightmute. The NTSB report said the plane burst into flames after hitting the ground, consuming most of the wreckage.
A celebration of Veal's life was set to be held in Kenai Thursday evening by relatives and friends.
Sprague, 26, was not injured in the Sept. 2 crash. There were no others onboard either of the planes.
It's the third midair collision in Alaska since July.
Shortly before last week's collision, Sprague and Veal were traveling together to the regional hub town of Bethel and were communicating on a predetermined radio frequency.
Sprague, who is originally from Idaho, was flying from the Bering Sea village of Tununak for rural freight carrier Ryan Air. Veal, originally from Winchester, Calif., was flying from nearby Toksook Bay in a plane operated by Grant Aviation, an air taxi and cargo carrier.
About 10 minutes into Veal's flight, he pulled the Caravan alongside the left side of the Cessna as the planes cruised 1,200 feet above sea level. The pilots continued to talk by radio, Sprague told the NTSB. Visibility was about 1,500 feet.
"She said that the pilot of the 208B then unexpectantly (sic) and unannounced climbed his airplane above, and overtop of her airplane," the report states. "She immediately told the pilot of the 208B that she could not see him, and she was concerned about where he was."
Sprague said Veal responded that whatever she did, "don't pull up," according to the report. Moments later, the Caravan struck the Cessna, destroying most of a section of the right wing that that controls the turning direction — or roll — of the plane.
After her plane was hit, Sprague saw the Caravan pass beneath the Cessna and start dropping. Both pilots radioed each other that they thought they were going to crash and then Sprague saw Veal's plane in its final plunge, the report states.
Sprague struggled to keep control of her plane and couldn't maintain altitude. She was forced to land with limited roll control in near stall speed, Johnson said. The two planes ended up on the barren tundra terrain a mile apart, with the Caravan's severed section about a half mile from the wreckage.
Veal leaves behind two young children, according to Evan Veal, a cousin from Nikiski, Alaska. He said relatives from Alaska and California were attending the Thursday evening celebration of life, set to take place in a hangar in Kenai.
Evan Veal said his cousin came from a large family with many pilots. He called Veal "a great guy" and a good father who loved life and loved God.
"He loved to fly," Evan Veal said. "He wanted to fly in Alaska. He got to do what he dreamed of doing."
Meanwhile, the investigation of the crash continues and is still in the preliminary stages, Johnson said.
"There's a lot more to the story that has not been told yet," he said.
This midair collision differs from the first two because the Caravan and the Cessna were flying together in close proximity. The earlier midair crashes involved planes traveling separately that were difficult to spot amid mountainous terrains.
On July 30, an Anchorage family of four was killed when their single-engine Cessna 180 floatplane crashed and burned after hitting another floatplane north of that city. The other plane was able to return to Anchorage with its pilot uninjured.
On July 10, nine people aboard a Piper Navajo and four people in a Cessna 206 were uninjured when the planes collided as they flew directly toward each other in Lake Clark Pass — a narrow river valley that runs between Anchorage mountains. Both aircraft were able to land safely.