Speed kills

The National Transportation Safety Board’s record of the helicopter’s track and speed.

With Alaska’s largest newspaper about to publish a scandalous story accusing 52-year-old Andy Teuber of sexual harassment at the start of March, the former president of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) climbed behind the controls of a single-engine, Robinson R66 helicopter in a rush to fly home to Kodiak Island to be with his family when the news broke.

Family associates said he first pleaded with the Anchorage Daily News (ADN) to hold its story until he could supply copies of communications with his accuser showing that the accusations against him were false, but the newspaper refused.

Teuber is now dead and will never know why the rush to publication if ADN reporters and editors ever do explain. So far they have stayed silent.

As is well known to most Alaskans today, Teuber – a one-time member of the University of Alaska Board of Regents along with being the ANTHC president – never made it to Kodiak. The National Transportation Safety Board Tuesday declared him dead in its preliminary investigation into the disappearance of the black-and-white R66 he was flying.

The turbine-powered, five-seat helicopter “is presumed destroyed after it impacted ocean waters about 70 miles north of Kodiak,” the report said.

The report also indicates Teuber was in a big hurry to get home. A satellite tracker has the helicopter flying in excess of its recommended cruising speed just before it went down.

Little debris has been found and the exact cause of the accident might never be known, but the NTSB report also indicates Teuber was not in a good mental state to be at the controls.

A fellow pilot who readied the helicopter for flight at Anchorage’s Merrill Field Airport told the federal agency “he had brief contact” with Teuber “while unloading his personal gear from the helicopter, but that the accident pilot (Teuber) seemed distracted and was not himself.

“Just before departure, the accident pilot commented to the Kodiak Helicopters pilot that he wanted to be in Kodiak, and with his family, when a local news story involving him was scheduled to publish.”

Demanding aircraft

The R66 is a five-seat, turbine-powered version of the piston-powered R44 popular in the 49th state. The Alaska State Troopers fly three R44s.

Company founder Frank Robinson in 2013 received the David Guggenheim Medal for notable achievements in aeronautics for his “conception, design, and manufacture of a family of quiet, affordable, reliable and versatile helicopters.”

But the safety record for Robinson Helicopters is checkered. The New Zealand Herald questioned their safety after a spate of crashes in that country in 2017.

“It is a vexing issue,” reporter Phil Taylor wrote.. “Whether the high accident rate is due to operator error, or because the unique Robinson rotor design makes them more prone to catastrophe when things go wrong, or both, is a question that carries obvious commercial implications and an emotional load for those who are grieving loved ones.”

“Danger spins from the sky,” the Los Angeles Times headlined a year later. “The Robinson R44, the world’s best-selling civilian helicopter, has a long history of deadly crashes.”

The news stories led R44 pilot John Zimmerman to blog at length at “Air Facts, the journal for personal air travel – by pilots, for pilots,” beneath a headline that read “What’s Wrong With R44 Pilots?”

Zimmerman’s story gets into “mast bumping” at some length, observing that “this is topic takes on an almost mystical tone with some non-aviation writers, but it is mostly a matter of physics and it is not unique to the R44 (or R66). All semi-rigid rotor systems (two-bladed) are susceptible to catastrophic in-flight breakup if the helicopter experiences low G conditions and the pilot does not recover properly.

“…It’s simply a fact, whether you’re flying a Huey or an R22. The solution is to avoid low G situations and practice proper pilot technique if you find yourself in one.

“Speed also matters. Robinson is increasingly emphasizing that pilots should slow down in turbulent conditions: ‘A pilot’s improper application of control inputs in response to turbulence can increase the likelihood of a mast bumping accident.'”

Speed never exceed

The conclusion of Zimmerman’s analysis was that R44 pilots need to be alert and on their game or the risks of flying the aircraft increase markedly. The indications are Teuber was distraught and in a hurry to get home to Kodiak given the bombshell the ADN informed him and his attorney it was going to drop despite his answering a long list of emailed questions and offering to provide further evidence to exonerate himself.

The Spidertracks aircraft monitoring system that tracked Teuber’s helicopter in flight showed him flying safely south across the Kenai Peninsula, over the mountains of Kenai Fiords National Park, and then out over the Barren Islands at the entrance to Cook Inlet.

The last time Spidertracks pinged the helicopter it was reported to be headed almost due south toward Kodiak making a speed of 132 knots at an elevation of 394 feet near barren and deserted Ushagat Island.

The Robinson Helicopter Company R66 Operating Handbook lists a maximum cruising speed of 110 KIAS (knots indicated air speed) and cautions pilots that they should “not exceed except in smooth air, and then only with caution.”

“Indicated air speed” and speed over the ground, which is what Spidertracks would be recording, can vary considerably depending on wind strength and wind direction. Winds in the area of the crash at the time of the crash are unknown, but the NTSB reported a breeze of 4 mph blowing in Kodiak, 32 miles from the apparent crash site.

At the time of the crash, the data would indicate Teuber was taking the helicopter to or past its design limits in his hurry to get home. MustReadAlaska, a conservative news website, has suggested the ADN pushed Teuber to his death.

“‘He said, she said’: Was this a case of journalistic murder?” it headlined after the crash.

Rush never publish

Why exactly the ADN was in such a rush to publish a story based solely on the unsubstantiated accusations of one woman is unclear. She provided details of some encounters that could have been verified in part or more if the newspaper had investigated. Teuber’s own electronic communications with the alleged victim could have shed more light on the story.

There have been suggestions, which cannot be substantiated in part because the ADN is not talking, that Teuber’s accuser, Savanah Evans, threatened to take her story of sexual harassment elsewhere to help some other publication “scoop” the ADN if it didn’t run with her account.

In the run-up to publication, Teuber answered 32 questions emailed him by ADN reporter Michelle Theriault Boots. The ADN has failed to answer any questions, including these sent specifically to Boots on March 4:

“Alex Wong says you were aware of his divorce from Savanah Evans while she was working for Andy Teuber.

“You left this information out of the story.  Why?

“Did you ask Ms. Evans if she told her then newlywed husband (Wong) of the problems she was facing at work?
“You were aware Ms. Evans quit and wrote her letter of resignation after being told she was about to take a $29,000 pay cut. You left that out of the story. Why?
“Your story says ‘Evans and her attorney, Jana Weltzin, said they were not aware that Teuber was engaged or had gotten married.’ How did they know to offer such a denial if they didn’t know Mr. Teuber was engaged and getting married?
“In Ms. Evans’ letter of resignation, she mentioned meeting with a MODA insurance rep and then going to dinner with Mr. Teuber at Fletcher’s. What was the Moda rep’s recollection of the meeting? Did he join Ms. Evans and Mr. Teuber for dinner?
“If not, did you ask Ms. Evans why she would go to dinner alone with a man she said was sexually harassing her? Did you ask her why she would choose to drive him home if he had been drinking instead of calling him a cab?
“What did the lawyer you consulted as to sexual harassment cases think of Ms. Evan’s behavior in this situation?
“And, lastly, is there a state in which it is illegal for supervisors to engage in consensual sex with mentally competent, adult subordinates?”

The latter question was in reference to an ADN suggestion such relationships might be illegal in other states. “Alaska law does not prohibit sexual relationships between supervisors and subordinates,” said the story published in cooperation with ProPublica.

ADN reporter Kyle Hopkins, who shared a byline with Boots on the story, is paid by the New York City-based news organization. The question as to why the ADN rushed the Teuber story into print was sent to him, Boots and ADN executive editor David Hulen.

None answered.

Journalism today

The ADN’s handling of the story in 2021 stands in sharp contrast to how the New York Times (NYT) handled the allegations of sexual abuse Dylan Farrow publicly leveled against her father, director Woody Allen, in the middle of the last decade.

Farrow’s story was the subject of a lengthy, four-part, documentary series on the HBO network this month. 

As in the Teuber case, only two people – Farrow and Allen – know the whole truth of what happened between them. The NYT investigated Farrow’s claims; concluded there was no reason to disbelieve them; and then refused to run her essay or write a news story.

The essay later appeared on the op-ed page under the heading of the column of Nicholas Kristof, who wrote an introduction. A debate still rages as to who is telling the truth, but the story has largely remained in the arena of opinion because these stories are sometimes impossible to sort out even when journalists try.

Allen still has his defenders, including Farrow’s adopted brother Moses Farrow.

Brother Ronan Farrow, a lawyer and journalist who helped expose sexual predator Harvey Weinstein and fuel the #metoo movement, says he fully believes his sister. 

The now 86-year-old Allen has been married for 22 years to Soon-Yi Previn, who was a 9-year-old member of the blended Allen-Farrow family when Allen hooked up with Mia Farrow, Dylan’s mother. Allen split from Mia after a 12-year relationship and married Previn when she was 21.

Human interactions are complicated and sometimes ugly, and absent physical evidence of some sort of assault or videotape, it is nye impossible to prove what happened between two people in private.

The ADN/Propublica made no mention of this in their story and ceded the moral high ground to Evans in the fifth paragraph, proclaiming that “Evans gave her permission to be named in this article, saying she wants to end a cycle of abuse.”

That is quite possibly the truth, but it is equally possible that Evans wanted to get even with Teuber because her salary was getting cut by $29,000 per year – a big hit for a well-paid 27-year-old – or because her marriage was breaking up over an affair with Teuber.

Why those key facts were left out of the story – denying readers information that might help them form their own opinions – is another of the many unknowns surrounding the Teuber case.

But the claim of a “cycle of abuse” at the ANTHC did lead one woman who formerly worked there to contact this website to say that she had been sexually harassed, took the issue to the company’s human resources department, which she said handled it promptly and fairly. The allegation was not made against Teuber but another ANTHC supervisor.

The company on March 15 named Valerie Nurr’araaluk Davidson as its interim president.

The complete NTSB report can be be found here:


13 replies »

  1. I also appreciate your continued reporting of this. I appreciate that you include, ‘unsubstantuated’ in your article (to qualify that a statement is not a proven fact for the readers).

    The ADN article was greatly unsubstantiated – between the spectrum of misleading (at the least) to negligent and/or malicious (at the worst).

    News journalists have an incredible responsibility. The words and tone they use to get the final published article is often thereafter received by the public reader as truth.

    Commentary or Opinion columns are expressly stated as such.

    So without that expressed qualifier, news journalists have a great more responsibility to fact finding, citations, and research standards, in my opinion.

  2. Little off topic but wondering if Valerie is knocking down 1,000,000/year as was Tueber, according to reports. What’s up with that?

  3. “Sex Sells Everything
    and Sex Kills” Joni Mitchell
    In the case of the ADN, a sex scandal involving a powerful man (a la Me Too) was irresistible. Afraid of being scooped, they decided to rush it out..Why? to win awards and sell subscriptions.
    So in essence the ADN is selling out for a sex story they know will be tantalizing and titillating to the public.
    Sex kills revolves around the social trauma caused by society’s puritanical judgement of people having sex or at least unseemly sex. Yet, somehow a lot of sex goes on unreported – lol

  4. I was watching a gameshow the other day from the 70’s called Matchgame 76 or something like that. The host, Gene Rayburn would spray his mouth before kissing the guests RIGHT ON THE LIPS.. All in good fun. Well. It was back then.. IMAGINE THE HORROR TODAY…Imagine the poor girls scared for life while seeking medication and claiming lifelong victimhood. Suing the show, the host, and wanting millions in compensation and counseling. I just laughed.
    Been in the Robinson once and only once.. never felt comfortable..Personal opinion. Mast bumping – doubtful. Retreating blade stall – very possible and catastrophic. Engine failure at that altitude along with the failure to properly initiate the immediate autororation procedures – very possible and catastrophic. Did the helicopter even have floats? I’d be curious to know Tueber’s level of helicopter training. Combining a Robinson, 132 mph, 394 feet, while over water would test any seasoned pilot during any emergency. Of course adding his mental state doesn’t help.

    • Bryan:
      the helicopter was tracked at 132 KTs ground speed , not 132 mph. 132 KTs is approx 150 mph. Far too fast if the true airspeed was same or close to the ground speed! And certainly fast enough to stall the retreating blades if that was the case.

      • I stand corrected. I believe it was 132kts ground speed. Sorry for the typo. I believe I mentioned retreating blade stall.

      • But, as you know he could be at 110kias (VNE) with a ground speed of 132kts (151mph) and remain within limitations?

  5. An R66 traveling at 150 mph true air speed would very likely encounter what is called a retreating main rotor blade stall and would cause the helicopter to get out of control if not immediately corrected. And it could cause a negative “g” loading which could also cause mast bumping. Both of those conditions could explain why this helicopter crashed. The hard thing to understand is why a very experienced heli pilot would ever try to go so fast. Avoiding these conditions are drilled into heli pilots and never forgotten.

    Statements that seem to imply that the pilot was
    distraught and that he may have been so distracted that he caused the crash are speculation. And if the implications are that he intentionally took his life they are also speculations. Particularly if he had evidence to show the accuser was not telling the truth. On the other hand if he had a large life insurance policy and was aware that it would not pay if the death was by suicide, it might be very difficult to deny coverage because of suicide if he was killed in a helicopter crash. Again, speculation.
    Or maybe there was a mechanical issue that caused the heli to go down. Who knows. And we will likely never know.

    • Never underestimate the risks of distractions. They’ve almost maimed me several times while working with power tools.

      As to the speculation on suicide, I tend to discount it. He flew past plenty of mountains. If you want to commit suicide, it would be easiest to fly straight into a cliff and end things quick. There is a remote possibility you could survive a crash into water.

      About the only thing I think it is safe to say here is that Teuber had a lot on his mind that day. How one weighs that I don’t know, but I have on an occasion or two caught myself behind the wheel of a motor vehicle with my mind wandering so much that it hit me I wasn’t hardly paying attention to the road at all.

      That’s stupid and dangerous.

      I’ve driven

      • Craig, have to agree with you. His flight track seems routine enough and to me doesn’t “speak” of a suicide. Looks like his intent from the start was to reach Kodiak to beat the story. But, as a pilot he did very little to foresee or help himself in the event of a malfunction. ALTITUDE, ALTITUDE, ALTUTUDE is life.
        If the aircraft was destroyed due to Mast Bumping there most likely would be a bigger debris field. The aircraft would have had what they call “blew blades”, a condition where the blades fly off, and the aircraft either self destructs in the air or when the “lawn dart” impacts the water. Very little was found. After seeing that an inflated float was found, one has to assume Tueber had time to inflate the floats which tells me that a possible engine failure may be the cause. Not normally a death sentence. But, add in Tueber’s training or lack of, low altitude, distractions, and a low inertia aircraft and it can be. My guess is he is still seat belted in the aircraft on the seafloor. But, could be a tailrotor malfunction (hands in air). No question Tueber had a tremendous amount on his mind.

      • Ditto on the altitude. He didn’t have much. I should probably have added Zimmerman’s observation on that subject vis-a-vis the Robinson helos: “Pilots should fly above 500 feet if at all possible.”

        Hopefully people read the link to Air Facts. It’s a pretty interesting deep dig into R-series crashes.

        I’m no pilot, but do understand the physics of how aircraft work. Was a pretty serious sailor at one time. There you have two wings – keel and sail – working in competition, but they’re both wings doing what wings do. Breaking the flow across them can produce horrendous consequences.

        Thankfully, you usually just break rigging (or at least I did); you don’t die.

  6. Good update on this case. I appreciate your attention to detail and providing “the rest of the story”.

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