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.”
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.”
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 complete NTSB report can be be found here: