A botched landing on glassy water at Halibut Cove led to the crash of a Cessna 206, single-engine aircraft that came within yards of slamming into the “Danny J” ferry last July, according to National Transportation Safety Board documents released today.
The plane was being flown by adventurous Alaska Dispatch News publisher Alice Rogoff, whose description of the landing is included in the NTSB packet.
“As I came over the rocky bar and set up to land,” the then 64-year-old Rogoff said, “the aircraft hit the water with more speed and sooner than expected, causing it to bounce off the water. Because of the short landing space, and my speed, I determined that it was better to abort, rather than salvage, my landing attempt.”
Rogoff said she isn’t exactly sure what happened after that, “but I pushed in full throttle, reduced my flaps, and tried to steer in a manner that would avoid any obstacles in front of me.”
She failed spectacularly in that attempt. Photos show one of the floats on her airplane topping a tree and nearly striking a bald eagle in the small community just across Kachemak Bay from Homer at the end of Alaska highway Route 1.
“Six witnesses were interviewed and all provided a similar recollection of events,” NTSB investigator Shaun Williams wrote. “They observed (Rogoff’s) airplane approach for a landing on calm, glassy water. Following touchdown, the airplane became airborne again and climbed about 40 feet toward nearby trees. The left float contacted the trees, separated from the airplane and the airplane entered a steep descent until impact with the water.”
The plane was a wreck, but Rogoff miraculously escaped without injury and was pulled from the water by Halibut Cove residents.
Glassy water landings are notoriously difficult. The Federal Aviation Administration devotes a full section of its “Seaplane Ops Guide” to “glassy water,” noting that “the glassy water illusion makes it appear that we’re higher than we actually are, causing us to touch down prematurely.”
The guide specifically warns that landings in confined areas can be dangerous in glassy water conditions. Halibut Cove is a confined area.
“Obstacles around some lakes, particularly short ones, make it impossible to fly the full glassy-water procedure. In some cases these lakes just aren’t safe when the water
is glassy,” the guide says.
Once Rogoff bounced her plane off the water in the Cove, she faced a tough choice between trying to complete the landing, with the possible consequence of running into a shoreline ahead, or trying to abort the landing and power out of the cove, with the possible consequence of hitting the tops of trees on the point.
She aborted. If she’d been flying a wheeled plane, she might have made it.
But the float on her amphibious aircraft caught a spruce and sent the plane spiraling down into the water, which likely cushioned the crash enough to prevent serious injury or death. And then there were people on scene to rescue Rogoff as soon as she popped out of the wreckage.
Of that, Rogoff said, “I have little recollection other than realizing that water was coming into the cabin and I needed to get out. I kicked out the pilot window and pulled myself from the cockpit.”
Prior to the crash, Rogoff indicated she’d been having a great Independence Day holiday enjoying Alaska.
“Around noon on the date in question, I flew as co-pilot in the Aircraft from Halibut Cove to the Nushagak River to drop off my daughter for a fishing trip,” she said. “Afterwards, we flew back to Homer airport to drop off the pilot and take on additional fuel.”
Since learning to fly in Alaska in the early 2000s, it has been Rogoff’s practice to put a professional pilot in the left-hand seat of her aircraft. NTSB records indicate that of her 700 hours of flight time only 400 hours were as the “pilot in command” and Rogoff sometimes had a professional in the right-hand seat on those occasions.
A 2015 study done for the FAA says accident rates for non-instrutment-rated pilots begin to increase shortly after they get their licenses and increase steadily to a peak at about the 500-hour mark before beginning a steady decline.
Rogoff, in her statement to the NTSB, said she did not expect any trouble after taking off from Homer on an 11-mile flight to Halibut Cove to join a birthday celebration for former Alaska state Sen. Clem Tillion.
“Very familiar with this 10 minute flight,” Rogoff said, “having landed on water at Halibut Cove many times. After announcing my intentions on (radio frequency) 122.9, I approached from the west and flew over the landing area at approximately 600 feet to confirm no traffic and determine wind and water conditions. Per normal practice, I circled back to enter downwind for landing. I followed my approach to landing checklist (FFCARS-Fuel, Flaps and Gear, Clear Area, Rudder, Radio and Speed) setting full flaps and descending at approximately 70 mph on final.”
The plane then hit the water “sooner than expected, causing it to bounce” – in her words – and she tried to salvage the situation.
FAA records reflect Rogoff is no longer certified to fly a floatplane although she still holds a license to fly single-engine wheeled aircraft.