FAIRBANKS – A longtime Fairbanks businessman was not medically cleared to fly when he crashed in July, killing himself and a passenger — (Juneau Empire)

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Juneau Empire

Alaska Digest

 Posted: Monday, August 22, 2005

FAIRBANKS – Warren Prax was at the controls of a Cessna 180 that crashed and killed him and 21-year-old Cory Marsh on July 30. The pair were on their way to a remote hunting lodge on the Wood River 50 miles southwest of Fairbanks, a flight of about 22 minutes. They crashed seven miles from the lodge.

A preliminary report released by the National Transportation Safety Board on Friday said Prax, 71, who underwent heart bypass surgery three months before the crash, did not have a current medical certificate on file with the Federal Aviation Administration and had not applied for a new one.

It is illegal to fly without a medical certificate.

Private pilots over the age of 40 must pass a physical examination every two years to maintain their medical certificate, said aviation safety inspector Steve Lindsay with the FAA in Fairbanks. Prax used a private airstrip and the only way the FAA would have known Prax was flying illegally was if he did something to bring it to the agency’s attention, Lindsay said.

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NTSB Identification: ANC05FA116

HISTORY OF FLIGHT

On July 30, 2005, at an estimated time of 1030 Alaska daylight time, a wheel equipped Cessna 180 airplane, N3188C, collided with tree-covered terrain, about 37 miles south of Fairbanks, Alaska. The airplane was being operated as a visual flight rules 14 CFR Part 91 cross-country personal flight when the accident occurred. The airplane, operated by the pilot, was destroyed by impact and post-impact fire. The certificated private pilot and the sole passenger both sustained fatal injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the flight’s departure point, and no flight plan was filed. The flight originated at a private airstrip at North Pole, Alaska, about 0945, and was en route to the accident pilot’s remote lodge.

Family members and friends of both the pilot and passenger reported to search personnel that the purpose of the flight was to transport the passenger, a heavy equipment mechanic, to the pilot’s remote lodge so he could work on some heavy equipment at the lodge. The flight was reported overdue to the Alaska State Troopers on August 2, at 2121, when the airplane did not return to North Pole in the evening hours on August 1, the previously scheduled return time. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a missing aircraft notice on August 2, at 2154.

Search personal searched along the flight’s anticipated route of flight. No emergency locator transmitter (ELT) signal was received from the airplane. On August 4, about 1630, the burned wreckage was located about 7 miles north of the pilot’s remote lodge, in a heavily wooded area. According to search personal, the wreckage site was concealed by 75-foot tall trees, and was only visible when observed from directly above the accident site.

During an interview with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator-in-charge (IIC) on August 6, a friend of the passenger reported that on the morning of July 30, she drove the passenger to the pilot’s home adjacent to the private airstrip where the airplane departed. Soon after arriving, the pilot instructed the passenger to fill six 5-gallon (plastic) fuel containers with diesel fuel, and then place them in the airplane. She said that additional items loaded were a large iron stove, the mechanic’s tools, several bags of groceries, and a large blue cooler/ice chest. The friend noted that on previous flights with the accident pilot, the passenger felt uncomfortable because “[the pilot] would never put a seat in for him.” She said that he would routinely be required to sit on a plastic bucket or a small ice chest during the flight to the remote lodge.

MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION

A post-mortem examination of the pilot was conducted under the authority of the Alaska State Medical Examiner, 4500 South Boniface Parkway, Anchorage, Alaska, on August 8, 2005. The autopsy report noted the cause of death for the pilot was blunt force injury and fire/heat related changes.

A toxicological examination was conducted by the FAA’s Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI), and a CAMI report dated October 12, 2005 noted 0.414 micrograms/ml of fluoxetine detected in the pilot’s lung and 0.827 micrograms/ml of fluoxetine detected in the pilot’s muscle tissue, in conjunction with unspecified levels of norfluoxetine in both tissues. 

Fluoxetine (trade name Prozac) is a prescription antidepressant medication also indicated for the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, and bulimia nervosa (an eating disorder). Norfluoxetine is an active metabolite of fluoxetine. The FAA prohibits the use of such drugs by pilots. The toxicological examination revealed no alcohol.