Man Hit By Aircraft During Arctic Nuclear Sub Exercise
Often headlines disappoint. Well this story is exactly what the headline says.
On 20 March 2018, de Havilland Canada (now Viking Air) DHC-6 Twin Otter N716JP struck an individual during take-off from a remote sea ice airstrip, about 140 miles north of Deadhorse, Alaska (the flight’s destination). The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report that the casualty suffered serious head and neck injuries and the aircraft received substantial damage to the left wing and left aileron.
The Part 135 VFR flight was operated by Bald Mountain Air Service as part of a contract for logistical support of ICEX 2018, a 5 week exercise with three US Navy and Royal Navy nuclear submarines (USS Connecticut, USS Hartford and HMS Trenchant) operating beneath the frozen Arctic Ocean.
The temporary ice camp, on a moving ice flow, had been established to support the exercise. The airstrip was marked by snow berms. One runway was oriented north/south and another east/west. The site will be de-established once the exercise is over.
The aircraft commander reported clear skies with ice pack haze. The take-off was to the North at 19:45 LT and he noted that:
…the sun was low on the horizon, resulting in shadows on the airstrip, and that flat light conditions made it difficult to discern topographical features.
The injured person, an employee of the Arctic Submarine Laboratory, who operated the site, had agreed with the flight crew that he would position himself alongside the runway to photograph the departure, behind the 3-4 ft tall snow berm.
The captain said that…during the takeoff roll, the airplane veered slightly to the left of centerline, so he applied differential engine power to correct the veer, and the airplane returned to the centerline. As the takeoff roll continued, the airplane subsequently became airborne, so he lowered the nose to remain within ground effect and gain airspeed before initiating a climb. He said that as the airspeed increased, he started to climb the airplane, then initiated a left turn. During the turn, both pilots said they heard a loud thump, which was immediately followed by an aileron control anomaly.
The captain reported that he continued the left turn and subsequently entered a left downwind traffic pattern for an emergency landing to the north. The captain said that after landing, both pilots saw the pedestrian lying near a snow berm on the left side of the airstrip.
The injured person said that the aircraft ” did not climb as quickly as it had during previous departures”. The last thing he remembered before the collision was seeing the “left wing getting lower to the ground” as the aircraft “continued to accelerate toward him”. The next thing he remembered was waking up in the medevac helicopter.
Download of the aircraft’s CVR is pending.
We will update this article as the NTSB safety investigation develops.
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