Commentary

Not fit to print

The aircraft of the unknown pilot/Alaska State Troopers photo

Journalists in Alaska’s largest city can now thank Nome’s Nate Perkins for doing their job for them.

He was the first to identify 23-year-old Tyler Haroldson as the pilot who crashed his single-engine plane in the mountains north of Palmer, walked away unharmed, never bothered to notify authorities, and thus left them futilely searching for the plane’s beeping rescue beacon for four days.

This is how the news works these days. Reporters rewrite press releases full of holes from federal, state or local authorities, and then it is left to readers to do the reporting legwork and post in the comments below the stories the key information most readers want to know.

KTUU, the self-proclaimed Alaska’s News Source, was the first to report this crash, but didn’t really report anything. It regurgitated a media statement from Alaska State Troopers.

“Troopers were unable to locate the pilot until he was reached by phone at 6:35 p.m. on Feb. 10,” according to the television state. “Troopers reported that the pilot suffered a mechanical issue during flight and took a hard landing before he was able to self-rescue with the help of someone else.”

The pilot’s name? Not mentioned.

The “someone else.” Ditto.

The inherent contradiction between self “rescued” and helped by someone else? Never mind. This was the way the Troopers decided the story should be told.

After KTUU did the story, the Pulitizer Prize-winning Anchorage Daily News, the state’s largest news organization, picked it up. Its contribution to the question just about every pilot and many others in Alaska wanted answered was this:

Austin McDaniel, a spokesman for Troopers said, “the Department of Public Safety in its press releases doesn’t usually include the identities of people involved in search and rescue operations unless doing so would help them find the missing individuals; they’ve been charged with a crime; or, if they died in the incident, their next of kin have been notified.”

Never mind that the names of people who become the subject of search and rescue operations in Alaska are public information, or that pilots are required to report crashes like this to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) which then puts their names in the public incident and accidents reports that track airplane crashes all across the country.

Not rocket science

So it fell to Perkins to do the actual reporting work, which wasn’t hard. This reporting is embarrassingly easy if you know the plane’s “tail number,” which was clearly visible as N96552 in the photo troopers supplied the media.

Tying the plane to its owner takes about 30 seconds (I timed it), including the time necessary to type “Google” into the computer browser. After that, you type “plane registration lookup” into the search box, click, wait for the computer to produce the “N-Number Inquiry – FAA Civil Aviation Registry,” click again, and type the tail number into the “N-number inquiry box” on the search page of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

An old journalism friend no longer working in journalism, an individual who can sometimes have a conniption fit about how shabby Alaska reporting has become, blamed the shoddy reporting here in part on laziness.

But that’s hard to buy, given that it took 20 seconds to dial McDaniel’s phone and let it ring twice. (Timed to that, too). By the time a reporter got him on the phone, if he was in, and identified himself or herself before starting to ask questions, the clock would have already run past the 30 seconds it took to look the information up online and, at the very least, identify the owner of the airplane.

A reporter can then report the plane is owned by X. That isn’t necessarily the pilot, but in this case, an email to McDaniel rather quickly confirmed that Haroldson was both the owner and pilot.

Why would he confirm this? Because it’s his job to provide public information when specifically asked for it even if it’s not his job to volunteer information his bosses don’t want volunteered.

Given how easy this information was to obtain, a better explanation for the failure of at least two reporters to do the simplest of reporting jobs is either that they didn’t know there is an airplane registry, a possibility, or they were content, as many reporters are these days, to perform largely as the fourth arm of government instead of doing their job, which is fundamentally simple.

When the news happens, tell readers the who, what, when, where, how and maybe why of what happened. The why comes with that maybe only because sometimes no one knows that answer

In this particular case, however, Haroldson clearly ought to know the why, and it is rather important given that search and rescue (SAR) operations are inherently dangerous. A trooper pilot, a trooper and the snowmachine rider troopers were rescuing died in a helicopter crash after a SAR operation near Talkeetna only eight years ago – a SAR operation conducted not far from the site of this plane crash.

The 23-year-old Haroldson made a big mistake. His explanation as to why could be enlightening.

In the best case, it is possible he notified the NTSB of the crash, something required by law, and thought they would inform troopers. In the worst case, he just didn’t care if people wasted time looking for him.

There are also options between the two. Maybe he didn’t think the search beacon in the plane had activated. Maybe he was embarrassed about the crash and didn’t want to tell anyone.

Who knows.

Efforts to easily contact Haroldson for this story failed. He took his Instagram page – “(@tyguyh88) … Things that fly ✈️ Alaska”  and his Facebook pages down sometime after he was identified in the comments on the ADN story.

His Palmer address is in the FAA records, and a reporter could have driven to Palmer to try to knock on his door and ask the questions, but this one didn’t. I didn’t think it worth the drive because more interesting than Haroldson’s behavior here is that of the Alaska media.

Costs?

The troopers, the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) and the Alaska National Guard were involved in this search for days and nobody asked how much it cost? The Guard considers these missions good training, generally no matter the cost, and the CAP is sometimes of a similar opinion, but given the state of state budgets, the troopers have better things to spend their money on than needless searches and SAR oversight, a trooper responsibility whether they want it or not.

And there were some risks involved.

Troopers reported severe weather with high winds and low visibility during the search and 13 hours spent on the ground by a search team looking for an aircraft. People can get injured in these kinds of conditions.

So it would be interesting to hear Haroldson’s explanation for what happened in this particular case.

But it would be even better to see local media resume the reporting job once expected of local media rather than rewriting government edicts and waiting for readers to do the reporting to fill in the details, but this is where we are today.

One could blame ignorance or laziness, as the non-working journalist did, for this change in journalistic behavior, but it’s really more about leadership.

Reporters rise to the level of the reporting expected of them. If all they are expected to do is serve as re-write for the huge number of “public information officers,” public-relations operatives, and media spokeswomen, spokesmen or sometimes just plain “spokes” serving as defacto reporters, that’s all they will do.

Sadly, this re-write business is also a perfect description of how to kill the First Amendment guarantee of a free press.  There is no need to restrict what can be reported if the government can take over the job of reporting by spoon-feeding the mainstream media so it has more time to spend pushing the idea its competition in alternative media is only reporting “fake news.”

 

 

 

23 replies »

  1. I haven’t read anything in the ADN for many years, mostly for the reasons Craig lists. Same for the Frontiersman and News Miner.

  2. I think this story is about current press incompetence their dismissal of press rules and how it will effect their protections and eventually demolish our ability to hold rights as we become government programed drones who get a very limited quality information from the press . Thankfully the internet has made it easier for startups . When the press sides with government and doesn’t ask significant questions we are in a dark time. Canadas press avoidance of giving truckers objective press was absolutely embarrassing. This article is just more ptoof of legacy press incompetence. ( msny get info from ass press or reuters which are significant bias and dishonest)

    • God forbid the media do their jobs and cover the Durham Report on how Hillary spied on not only a Presidential Candidtate, but also the President of the United States. Biggest story of the Century and the media lapdogs go silent. Here let me help you media lapdogs, Hillary is guilty of treason. Got it? Good! Because we do.

  3. I would like to know ADN why it took 4 days to home in onto the planes EPIRB? I have had the pleasure of using an EPIRB once and a US Coast Guard plane (thanks guys once more) homed right in on me within hours. Is that the norm I cannot say, but I find it hard to believe it took 4 days. Going to call utter crap on that.

    A modern EPIRB is a sophisticated device that contains:
    A 5-watt radio transmitter operating at 406 MHz (see How the Radio Spectrum Works for details on frequencies)
    A 0.25-watt radio transmitter operating at 121.5 MHz
    A GPS receiver
    Once activated, both of the radios start transmitting. Approximately 24,000 miles (39,000 km) up in space, a GOES weather satellite in a geosynchronous orbit can detect the 406-MHz signal. Embedded in the signal is a unique serial number, and, if the unit is equipped with a GPS receiver, the exact location of the radio is conveyed in the signal as well. If the EPIRB is properly registered, the serial number lets the Coast Guard know who owns the EPIRB. Rescuers in planes or boats can home in on the EPIRB using either the 406-MHz or 121.5-MHz signal.

    Older EPIRBs did not contain the GPS receiver, so the GOES satellite received only a serial number. To locate the EPIRB, another set of satellites (like the TIROS-N satellite) orbiting the planet in a low polar orbit could pick up the signal as it passed overhead. This would give a rough fix on the location, but it took several hours for a satellite to come into range.

      • Craig, my assumption is his aircraft had an ELT..Granted it may have been an older model, but the signal location is still transmitted to resuce satellites and picked up by SAR aircraft for signal tracking with fairly good accuracy. I mean, we are talking about homing in on an active signal until the battery dies.. I not still not buying 4 days. The ELT impact signal validates that the signal does indeed belong to a particular aircraft activating the SAR chain.
        I guess what I mean is some things seem a bit off.

      • Bryan, a post from Greg Johnson, a commercial pilot, commenting on this story on my Facebook page:

        “ELT’s in mountainous terrain often bounce the signal off other mountains. This can make finding the location very difficult. Newer ones use satellites but like a sat phone terrain can still be limiting. I heard this ELT both coming over the Alaska range coming down from Dead Horse and the next morning returning from Cordova. ATC was asking all aircraft to monitor for it.”

      • Craig, I think you may have answered the question: Touche 🙂 ” I heard this ELT both coming over the Alaska range coming down from Dead Horse and the next morning returning from Cordova.”
        If that pilot heard the signal on his route then I am pretty sure the signal could have been “pinpointed” to a degree I’d put locating within 48hrs at most and that is being generous. Also, the plane was clearly visible from the air. It wasn’t down in the trees. Was weather an issue for aerial SAR? Was there a break somewhere innthe SAR chain? Was the Coast Guard even notified? How long did this kid own the plane? Did he own it before Cert renewal Dec 2021? Was he drunk? I agree with Steve-O, 4 days is a long time this time of year and as we know there are resources for just this sorta of thing. My guess is there was a breakdown somewhere in the SAR chain other than an “outdated ELT or signal bounce off a mountain”.

      • This is an aeronautical SAR over mainland Alaska making the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center on JBER the jurisdictional authority. The Civil Air Patrol, the Guard, and the State Troopers would have been in a supporting role operating at the request of the AKRCC. The press should have been talking to the AKRCC, not the Troopers, as their info is second hand among other reasons.

        Yes, modern ELTs (EPIRBs for boats and PLBs for people) transmit a digital 406mhz signal with owner info and GPS coordinates imbedded in the signal (in addition to the old 121.5 analog signal). Although you might not get the GPS data when an aircraft is flipped over on it’s back (like this one) since GPS antennas are on the topside of aircraft, Additionally, the ELT antennas are also usually found on the topside as well. Other complications could include the ELTs registration data not being updated with new owner information when the plane is sold, out of date contact information, missing or changed tail number, and so on.

        However, the article states that this was an “older model ELT” which means it’s the type that transmits an analog 121.5 signal only, which is no longer monitored for by satellites. 121.5 satellite monitoring was switched off 1 Feb 2009 when the 406mhz system came online. So all searchers had to work with was an audible 121.5 signal in the area. Yes, aircraft at altitude can hear it fine, but they can’t “pinpoint it” from altitude (AWACS might be able to, but nobody is sending that to search for a 121.5 – which are going off all the time). The only way to find a 121.5 in the mountains is to get down in the weeds with direction finding equipment or do it the old fashioned way, fly bearings and try and triangulate it by listening to the signal strength go up and down.

        As for why it took four days? Who knows, there’s any number of plausible explanations, that airplane could have been sitting in a cloud for four days. If you really want to know, call the AKRCC and they’ll either tell you, or ask you to submit a public info request.

        Also, finding an EPIRB out on the flat water is way easier than finding one in the mountains.

        Calling a buddy to come in and pick you up counts as self-rescue in that you initiated and coordinated your own rescue. It’s not just limited to walking out yourself with no help from anyone.

        Also, as I mentioned earlier, 121.5s go off all the time, almost always false alarms. If they put out public notices for this sort of thing, people would get real tired of seeing them real quick and pay no attention – think spam.

      • Thanks Paul.

        Excellent information as to EPIRBS and ELTS. The latter do seem to go off with some regularity, and pilots are often asked to monitor for beacons that have started beeping. That said, there is a difference between one going off in the vicinity of an airport, which would lead authorities to expect a hard landing or a crash witnessed by someone, and one going off in the Talkeetna Mountains.

        Meanwhile, I wish the RCC was a source for media information, but it’s not. RCC directs questions on civilian incidents to AST which has primary responsibility for civilian SAR missions in the state of Alaska. http://www.cohp.org/emergency/AK_SAR_data.html

        AST also makes the decision on whether to call in the CAP, ANG or other assets to assist.

        RCC states its mission as “support of US military and civil aviation search and rescue.” https://www.dco.uscg.mil/Portals/9/CG-5R/EmergencyBeacons/2013SarsatConf/Presentations/SAR2013_Mar21_AKRCC%20Overview_Carte.pdf

        And I can tell you as a reporter with decades of experience in Alaska that this has regularly been a serious impediment to information collection because the RCC regularly has more intel than the troopers but you have to go to the troopers to get them to pull it out of RCC, and then it sometimes isn’t quite accurate because it is, as you note, “second hand.”

    • If that picture is aircraft involved in wreak its more than a hard landing. If it had an epirb go off and the pilot took days to tell where he was where wreck was without valid reason then hes a complete Jerk and potentially endangerd search and rescue and should have his license revoked. Stuff happens but unless he had a head injury ect there is no excuse to endanger otgers needlessly imo .

    • Hi Craig,

      Telling the difference between in the vicinity of an airport and out in the mountains isn’t that easy. Sure, you can call up a tower, or local low level traffic around airports to see if they hear it, which narrows it down. But aircraft at altitude hearing it could be hearing it from 200-300-400 miles away, which is a pretty big search area. And beacons do go off accidentally at remote strips just as easily as at airports by people accidentally hitting the switch, hard landings, moisture in electronics, low battery, kids, etc.

      The AKRCC should not be directing reporters to the Troopers for questions (regarding aeronautical SAR) but if they are I would suggest reporters maybe call AF Public Affairs, or something. I followed your links and what confuses all of these “whose in charge and should be answering questions” discussions is the use of the term “Civil SAR” – there’s no such thing. There are only three kinds of SAR: Maritime, Aeronautical, and Land SAR. ‘Who’ is being rescued, whether civilian, military, law enforcement, foreign, etc., is not relevant. Sure, there can be some interesting dynamics with that, never mind land ownership, such as NPS, City, Muni, Native, and so on. There are also agreements that tailor the jurisdictions as well, for instance, the USCG covers Aeronautical SAR over the Aleutians and South East and the Air Force covers Maritime SAR in Cook Inlet, because it makes sense. The use of the term Civil SAR should be banned from all SAR discussions. Either way, the Air Force is responsible for this incident and they should be answering the questions. I would think a reporter could file a freedom of information act request and get an incident report, logs, and such…?

      All of my info on this subject is right out of the Nation SAR Plan and supporting documents by the way.

      “AST also makes the decision on whether to call in the CAP, ANG or other assets to assist.” No they do not. AST, NPS, USCG and other agencies may request assistance for CAP and other military resources through the AKRCC, who then decides if they can or will support it or not. If it’s Aeronautical SAR, the RCC is in charge and they decide if those assets are appropriate or not to support their SAR plan.

      “RCC states its mission as “support of US military and civil aviation search and rescue.”” Technically wrong. The AKRCC is the “jurisdictional authority required by Federal Law to resolve Aeronautical SAR events within their jurisdictional boundaries over mainland Alaska regardless of ownership” would be a better way to word that.

      Fun trivia. The Alaska Guard does not respond to these SAR missions. When a Guard unit is assigned to a SAR they are federalized, title-10, Active Duty, for liability and money reasons among other things. They are active duty airmen and soldiers, not Guard.

      Anyway, the AKRCC, or AF Public Affairs, should be answering questions about this incident and not sending reporters off to the Troopers.

  4. What I found odd about this story when I first read it is that seemingly a person, by way of a plane rescue beacon, was missing for four days after a plane crash during the winter in Alaska and NEWS of this didn’t get out until after the plane was located. Four days is a long time to survive in remote Alaska during the winter, were the troopers and CAP looking for a missing person or just the plane?

    • That is a very good question, which raises others, like why didn’t they put out a public notice asking if anyone knew where to find the missing pilot? That emergency beacon had to have been registered to someone at some time. Even if the registration didn’t lead back to the pilot involved here, it should have led to someone that enables one to trace the ownership of the plane and end up at the current owner. It would be interesting to know all of the rest of the story.

      I guess it’s possible the owner of the plane spent four days with the unidentified other party who picked him up, and troopers thus could not find him. But why then not put out a notice asking the public if anyone had seen him? It all just gets weirder the more one thinks about this story.

  5. Thanks for the rest of the story. I read the original ADN piece, unfortunately, Complete waste of time. ADN has disabled comments to news stories so you don’t get the additional information and analysis that readers can and do supply in better news papers. News is an expense; advertising is revenue. ADN is the journalistic equivalent of a food desert.

  6. It is rocket science if you don’t know a thing about it. I could have done that analytical/research process to find out whose airplane that was, but I’m a grizzled old curmudgeon that has been here for almost 50 years and has been all over Alaska in just about everything that flies or floats. A twenty-something print reporter or a pretty person from a TV station who has never been anywhere in Alaska other than metro Anchorage and maybe a tourist spot or two wouldn’t know where to start.

    When I worked for the State, I was the only person in my work unit who had ever been anywhere in Alaska that you couldn’t get to on a jet other than maybe a Forest Service cabin or a fishing spot in Southeast. Their knowledge of Alaska was limited to Juneau, Anchorage, and Fairbanks, and their knowledge of the latter two was limited to hotels, restaurants, and bars. Well, some could say they’d been to Ketchikan, Sitka, maybe Petersburg and Wrangell, Yakutat, and Cordova because they’d had the misfortune of being booked on a “milk run” flight.

    Almost all the media here is based in Anchorage, and Anchorage isn’t like the rest of Alaska. There’s not much difference between ANC and any other small city in the US other than the service is worse and the winters are longer. My first suspicion in this matter would have been that the pilot wasn’t licensed or that the plane wasn’t registered to the current possessor/owner. That stuff about licenses and title transfers and FAA registrations is pretty much an urban thing. Get off the road system and everything has the same license plate it had when it left Anchorage or Fairbanks, and pilot’s licenses are strictly optional if you can fly the thing. The urban creatures don’t understand that world.

    • Good points, Art, but many don’t apply here in that the owner was registered in the FAA database, and it doesn’t take but seconds to look there. It used to be automatic with reporters. Obviously, they are not as well schooled now, which goes back to leadership.

      At the ADN, at least, there are still some people who were there when an FAA records check was SOP. You’d think one of them would hold up his or her hand during the editing process, or immediately after the story first popped up online where everyone is reading, and say “uh, Houston. we have a problem here.”

      Then again, there’s no reward for doing that at the ADN, and probably just problems. In the U.S.S. Caine atmosphere of that place, questioning how others did a story has to be approached very, very carefully, and one most certainly wouldn’t want to spark an issue with troopers by demanding they give up the name. That might lead to troopers complaining to the editor, which could net the reporter a bad job review.

      Now as to your observations on the connectedness of reporters in Alaska these days (or the lack thereof), I will only add that this is a long-running problem. While I was at the ADN in the McClatch days, one reporter sent to Kenai to do a story got lost on the way. She’d never driven beyond Girdwood. She called from Hope to report she was lost and to ask for directions.

      I could never decide which was worse, getting lost or calling from Hope.

      There’s only one fork in the road that can you get there. How much intelligence does it take to go back to the fork and follow the road back in the other direction? OK, OK, that might have ended up leading her to Seward before she figured things out, but again, there’s only one fork and you could go back and repeat the fork-splitting maneuver again.

  7. For comparison’s sake, it would be interesting to hear how details of Tim Hewitt’s recent rescue emerged. Was Hewitt posting to social media? Did Nome SAR report the rescue somewhere? Were you following Hewitt’s trip, Craig, through contact with his wife? Just curious. Compared to what Hewitt has experienced and accomplished in the past, his “rescue” from the safety of a warm cabin hardly seems newsworthy.

    • Define newsworthy. Compared to what Hewitt has experienced and accomplished in the past, his deciding he need to call for a rescue seemed pretty newsworthy to me.

      Would it be newsworthy if I called for a rescue, Pete? I know of at least one occasion in the past when I should have called for a rescue, but I didn’t because I was afraid it was too newsworthy. The rescue might have reduced my peeing blood to a short time instead of a weak or so.

      And I can think of another case in which I self-rescued, caught an ambulance ride from Copper Landing to Kenai, and then became rather unhappily newsworthy when a reporter reached by phone while I was still in the ER. I remember thinking I should have just driven my truck, but working the clutch and accelerator with just your left foot when your right leg is bleeding all over the place and you’re in a bit of shock is somewhat dangerous.

      That’s part of the reason all my vehicles since have had automatic transmissions.

      I thought Tim’s story newsworthy because of the rescue and because it was a good illustration of the dangers of under-estimating winds, which is something someone might learn from.

      As to how it came about, Tim and I talk or text somewhat regularly. We’ve known each other for a couple decades. He messaged me was going through Anchorage and asked if I wanted to meet. I called him back to ask where he was going this time. The answer was home, which led to the rest of the story.

      Nome SAR ops are significantly under-reported, by the way, which is sad. There is some pretty heroic work conducted by volunteers on a regular basis along that section of Alaska’s coast. But then a lot of SAR goes unreported in rural Alaska where the people living there are usually expected to do it themselves instead of summoning AST air support.

      • I remember the Cooper Landing bear attack on the Russian River. You self-rescued with a Desert Eagle .50 caliber if I remember correctly. I don’t think the bear died? And no one ever found it? Some of the new people would enjoy your account of that incident.

  8. The photo was not taken until the plane was found. Until it was located, searchers were only alerted by the pings of the emergency beacon.

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