A Fairbanks based pilot involved in a Brooks Range flightseeing crash that killed one passenger and seriously injured two others was convicted this week of lying to federal investigators.
Forest Kirst of Fairbanks Alaska was also seriously injuries in the 2014 plane accident.
Three Canadian tourists chartered the Kirst Aviation flight for a day trip before starting an Alaska cruise, federal prosecutors say. Kirst left Bettles and began flying “too low. … After circling over a moose in a pond, the airplane lacked the power and altitude to clear Atigun Pass.” The aircraft crashed into the mountain side below the Dalton Highway and above a trans-Alaska pipeline maintenance road. An Anchorage jury on Monday convicted Kirst of obstructing the crash investigation by lying to the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Anchorage. Krist said in a phone interview that he was going to repel the case, and said . “I can’t help that government employees lied on the witness stand.”
Kirst blamed the crash on an improperly assembled propeller that came apart in flight, and says that information was supported by witnesses during legal proceedings. But federal investigators found no evidence to support that and said instead that the propeller came off during the crash.
Kirst was flying too low and, loaded near the plane’s maximum gross weight capacity, couldn’t climb fast enough to escape the terrain rising around him, according to a 2017 National Transportation Safety Board report stated.
Initially Kris told first respondents that he hit a severe downdraft approaching the high mountain pass, causing the plane to lose altitude according to the NTSB report, two weeks later Kirst told investigators the plane was climbing when passenger Darrell Spencer – who he said wasn’t wearing a shoulder harness – slumped into the yoke and blocked the throttle and landing gear controls. Kirst also said a motion sickness drug made all the passengers unresponsive.Though the report states no one saw this take place. Two months after the investigation, Kris told NTSB that his propeller came off in flight. During a later FAA hearing, Kirst testified his plane dropped about 1,500 feet before the crash, according to a federal indictment filed in 2017.The FAA pulled his commercial certificate in 2017 also.
NTSB investigators in their 2017 report also faulted the FAA for allowing Kirst to conduct commercial flights given his “history of accidents, incidents, reexaminations, and checkride failures” from 2007 to 2012.
Kirst’s sentencing on the federal conviction was scheduled for February.