Original article no longer available
Anchorage Daily News
July 3, 2000
Whittier, Alaska – Keith E. Kirsch, a 40-year-old private pilot, rented a Cessna 172S (N862SP) from Take Flight Alaska on the evening of July 3rd. He took off from Merrill Field Airport in Anchorage, and spent the next two hours buzzing boats before making a distress call and crashing into the ocean near Point Pigot. The Coast Guard recovered his floating body, and the aircraft was recovered five years later by a fishing vessel. Kirsch had multiple DUIs and had committed felony arson in 1990 when he firebombed a restaurant. At the time of the crash, he was a suspect in another arson, and a warrant was out for his arrest. A friend who drove him to the airport observed that Kirsch appeared to be on drugs, and his blood tested positive for alcohol and cocaine.
To view National Transportation Safety Board Accident Report (in summary) click here
NTSB Identification: ANC00FA082.
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Accident occurred Monday, July 03, 2000 in WHITTIER, AK
Probable Cause Approval Date: 06/03/2002
Aircraft: Cessna 172S, registration: N862SP
Injuries: 1 Fatal.
On July 3, 2000, about 1832 Alaska daylight time, a wheel-equipped Cessna 172S airplane, N862SP, was destroyed when the airplane collided with ocean water about 10 miles east of Whittier, Alaska, at 60 degrees, 48 minutes north latitude, 148 degrees, 15 minutes west longitude. The airplane was operated by Take Flight Alaska, Anchorage, Alaska, and was rented by the pilot. The certificated private pilot, the sole occupant, received fatal injuries. The airplane was being operated as a visual flight rules (VFR) personal flight under Title 14, CFR Part 91, when the accident occurred. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and a VFR flight plan was filed. The flight originated at the Merrill Field Airport, Anchorage, about 1630, and the flight-planned route was to Whittier and Middleton Island, Alaska, and return to Anchorage.
During a telephone conversation with the National Transportation Safety Board investigator-in-charge on July 3, the chief flight instructor for the operator reported that the pilot rented the airplane, with an anticipated return time of 1900. He added that the pilot failed to file the required “in-house flight plan” prior to his departure.
At 1725, a witness aboard a boat in the area of Culross Passage, about 15 miles east of Whittier, observed the accident airplane flying very low over the water. He said that the wings were rocking back and forth, with the wingtips almost touching the water. In a written statement to the NTSB, he wrote, in part: “…The aircraft was no more than 10 feet off the water. The aircraft then corrected again and the right wing lifted for him to bank left. It was then on a collision course for the cabin and pilothouse of the boat. I dropped the throttles and the boat settled in the water. The body of the aircraft passed between the bow anchor and the pilothouse window.” He added that after the airplane flew over his boat, it continued southbound, and out of sight. He said that while listening to the marine radio, he heard other boats in the area report similar experiences.
At 1832, a passing airplane received a distress call from the pilot stating that he had a loss of engine power, and that he was going down in the vicinity of Passage Canal and Wells Passage.
At 1847, the U.S. Coast Guard issued an urgent marine information broadcast (UMIB) on channel 16 marine band VHF radio, requesting assistance in locating the airplane. About 1937, a boat involved in the search reported floating debris in the area of Pt. Pigot. A U.S. Coast Guard HH-60J helicopter was dispatched to the area, recovered the pilot’s floating body, and transported him to an Anchorage hospital.
The airplane sank in ocean waters estimated to be between 1,200 and 1,500 feet deep. No attempt has been made to recover the airplane wreckage.
No personal flight records were located for the pilot and the aeronautical experience listed on page 3 of this report was obtained from Take Flight Alaska, and a review of the airmen Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records on file in the Airman and Medical Records Center located in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. On the pilot’s application for medical certificate, dated March 2, 1999, the pilot indicated that his total aeronautical experience consisted of 200 hours, of which no flight time was accrued in the previous 6 months.
The pilot held a private pilot certificate with airplane single-engine land, and instrument airplane ratings. The most recent second-class medical certificate was issued to the pilot on March 2, 1999, and contained no limitations.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Civil Aero medical Institute (CAMI) conducted a toxicological examination on October 3, 2000. The examination revealed the presence of the following agents in the blood:
Ethanol (42 mg/dL, mg/hg)
Acetaldehyde (3 mg/dL, mg/hg)
Benzoylecgonine (0.113 ug/ml, ug,g)
Diazepam (0.057 ug/ml, ug/g)
Nordiazepam (0.076 ug/ml, ug/g)
Oxazepam (detected in blood)
Temazepam (0.143 ug/ml, ug/g
Cocaine (detected in blood)
The following agents were found in the liver tissue:
Ethanol (27 mg/dL, mg/hg)
Acetaldehyde (50 mg/dL, mg/hg)
Benzoylecgonine (0.215 ug/ml, ug,g)
Cocaethylene (0.031 ug/Ml, ug/g)
Diazepam (1.011 ug/ml, ug/g)
Nordiazepam (1.504 ug/ml, ug/g)
Oxazepam (0.492 ug/ml, ug/g
Temazepam (0.758 ug/ml, ug/g
The following agents were found in the lung tissue:
Ethanol (69 mg/dL, mg/hg)
Acetaldehyde (3 mg/dL, mg/hg)
The following agents were found in the kidney tissue:
Ethanol (116 mg/dL, mg/hg)
The following agents were found in the spleen tissue:
Ethanol (98 mg/dL, mg/hg)
Acetaldehyde (4 mg/dL, mg/hg)
The following agents were found in the muscle tissue:
Ethanol (105 mg/dL, mg/hg)
The following agents were found in the heart tissue:
Ethanol (105 mg/dL, mg/hg)
Ethanol was detected in the pilot’s blood, liver, lung, kidney, spleen, muscle, and heart. In addition, cocaine was detected, but unquantified, in the pilot’s blood. Benzoylecgonine is an inactive metabolite of cocaine, and cocaethylene is a substance that is formed only when cocaine and ethanol are simultaneously present.
Diazepam was detected in the blood, and present in the liver. Diazepam is a prescription tranquilizer known commonly by the trade name Valium. Nordiazepam, Temazepam, and Oxazepam are active metabolites of Diazepam. Temazepam is also available separately as a prescription sleeping aid often known by the trade name Restoil.
During a telephone conversation with the National Transportation Safety Board investigator-in-charge on July 5, an Anchorage police officer reported that the deceased pilot was a suspect in a recent arson attempt, and that a warrant for his arrest had been issued. He added that in the early morning hours of July 3, the same day that the pilot rented the airplane, officers with the Anchorage Police Department impounded the pilot’s car.
According to court findings from 1991, the pilot was convicted of first-degree arson in connection with a local area restaurant fire. The pilot served about 4 years in a State of Alaska, Department of Corrections facility, and was released in May of 1995.
During an interview with the National Transportation Safety Board investigator-in-charge on July 6, a friend of the pilot stated that about 1515, on the day of the accident, he received a telephone call from the pilot. The friend related that during the course of the conversation, the pilot said that he was going on a trip, and asked the friend for a ride to the airport since his own car was not available. The friend agreed to drive to the pilot’s apartment and take him to the airport. The friend added that during the drive to the airport the accident pilot appeared restless, agitated, and depressed. The friend related that in his opinion, the accident pilot “was again using,” indicating that the pilot was under the influence of one, or more controlled substances. As the drive to the airport progressed, the pilot removed an envelope from his coat pocket, along with several packages of cigarettes, and placed them in the glove compartment of the friend’s car. The pilot then threatened his friend with bodily harm if he looked at the note before he left on his trip. After arriving at the flight school, while still in the parking lot, the accident pilot got out of the car and told his friend: “just mind your own business, because its my life.” After the pilot entered the office of the flight school, the pilot’s friend opened the envelope that the pilot had left in the glove compartment, and found two documents. The first document was a power of attorney, which in short, transferred all owned property to the pilot’s brother. The second document was a letter titled: “Message in a Bottle.”
The NTSB classified this accident as a suicide.