NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Knik Arm Crash, Troopers Investigate 9-1-1 Call

by Daysha Eaton on August 12, 2015

Seth Fairbanks. Courtesy Facebook.

Seth Fairbanks. Courtesy Facebook.

It appears there was a delay when an emergency call came in from a plane crash on Knik Arm last week that is believed to have led to the deaths of two men from McGrath. Wednesday, the National Transportation Board released a preliminary report on their investigation into the crash. Alaska State Troopers are now trying figure out what went wrong with the 9-1-1 system.

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A report from the National Transportation Safety Board confirms that 29-year-old Seth Fairbanks made a 9-1-1 call standing on the wreckage of his plane right after he and 23-year-old Anthony Hooper crashed into Cook Inlet along Knik Arm. Shaun William is an NTSB investigator on the case.

“At 11:54 p.m. on Thursday night a 9-1-1 call was received by the Alaska State Troopers from the pilot stating that he had just crashed and he was standing on top of his airplane. He requested rescue saying that he was too far from shore to swim. At 12:03 the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center received notification and air assets were on the scene at 12:16,” said Williams.

That means there were nine minutes before the Rescue Coordination Center heard about the emergency and aircraft were on site 22 minutes after the first call. Searchers found the wreckage of the supercub the next morning, but no sign of the two men.

The call is believed to have been auto routed to a Troopers Emergency Services Dispatcher in Fairbanks. But Trygve Erickson, a technology expert with the Municipality of Anchorage says the call should have been routed directly to Anchorage or Palmer.

“The system did not work the way it’s designed to work, the way it works virtually always,” said Erickson.

A new 9-1-1 system was implemented July 1st , which sends 9-1-1 calls after hours from numbers in the Bethel to a dispatch center in Fairbanks. Previously, 9-1-1 calls were auto routed to the Bethel Police Department. But Erickson says because the call was placed from the Anchorage area, it should have gone to a dispatch center closer to the crash.

“The fellows at the crash site dialed 9-1-1 with the expectation that it would go to first responders in the area they were at and it didn’t. And I suspect the cell carriers and the 9-1-1 centers are endeavoring to figure out why that call didn’t go to Anchorage or Palmer,” said Erickson.

Grant Fairbanks, Seth Fairbanks’ father, confirms his son had a GCI cell phone and a sat phone with him on the plane. David Morris, Vice President for GCI and their spokesperson says they’re working with troopers on their investigation.

“Based on what we know now, there was no 9-1-1 call that transited the CGI network at that time. Having said that, any 9-1-1 call placed will try to connect to whatever network is available. So that means whatever carrier you have, if you dial 9-1-1, it should hit the closest tower and then it gets routed from there,” said Morris.

Morris says there’s always the possibility that Fairbanks called from a phone other than his GCI phone. He said it’s also possible that Fairbanks could have placed the call from his GCI phone and that call could have jumped onto another network.

The NTSB says there was no radio contact from the men after they left McGrath to fly to an Anchorage wedding reception. The NTSB says the turbid, glacier-fed waters of Cook Inlet are fast moving. A high tide of nearly 27 feet above the low tide was rushing in at the time of the crash.

Investigators found a GPS unit they’re analyzing for any salvageable data. The NTSB says the final report on the investigation will be out in about a year. An Alaska State Troopers spokesperson says they don’t want to release any more information on their investigation into what went wrong with the 9-1-1 system until they have more information.

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