Alaska pilot convicted of lying to investigators after crash
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — An Alaska pilot who crashed with three passengers in 2014 has been convicted of lying to federal investigators.
Forest Kirst, 62, of Fairbanks, was convicted of two counts of obstruction of proceedings, U.S. Attorney Bryan Schroder announced Wednesday.
The crash near Atigun Pass seriously injured Kirst and three tourists from New Brunswick, Canada. One passenger died 35 days later.
Kirst will be sentenced Feb. 20. The maximum penalty is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Prosecutors say an actual sentence will be based on the seriousness of the offenses and other factors.
Kirst was the commercial pilot of a four-seat, single-engine Ryan Navion airplane and doing business as Kirst Aviation.
On Aug. 24, 2014, Kirst and his passengers took off from Bettles, a remote outpost with a population of 11 on the Koyukuk River about 180 miles (290 kilometers) north of Fairbanks. The flight was part of a one-day sightseeing excursion.
According to prosecutors, Kirst was flying too low for the geography south of the Brooks Range when he circled over a moose in a pond.
The airplane lacked power and altitude to clear Atigun Pass and crashed on the side of a mountain.
The crash site was below the Dalton Highway, the public road leading to oil fields at Prudhoe Bay, and above a maintenance road for the trans-Alaska pipeline.
Workers maintaining the highway and the pipeline were able to quickly respond to the crash.
The National Transportation Safety Board investigated the crash and the Federal Aviation Administration revoked Kirst’s airman certificate. Kirst appealed the revocation.
Kirst told the NTSB and the FAA that his airplane was at a higher altitude than what was reflected by GPS instruments. He also testified that the airplane dropped about 1,500 feet (457 meters) just before the crash. Prosecutors said both statements were false.
The NTSB investigates every U.S. civil aviation accident to determine their probable cause and to make safety recommendations. The NTSB also serves as the “court of appeals” for revocations made by the FAA.