Burning Engine Fell From Cargo Plane Before Fatal Crash Around Fairbanks, NTSB Says

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Federal investigators have revealed that the cargo plane, laden with fuel, which crashed near Fairbanks along the Tanana River late last month, experienced the loss of a burning engine just moments before impact.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its preliminary report on Thursday regarding the April 23 crash of the flight bound for Kobuk, resulting in the tragic loss of both crew members.

As medical examiners work to positively identify the victims, Alaska State Troopers spokesperson Austin McDaniel indicated that the identities of the deceased crew members have not yet been disclosed.

NTSB’s Alaska chief, Clint Johnson, commended aircraft operator Alaska Air Fuel for their high level of cooperation throughout the investigative process.

According to the report, the Douglas C-54, equipped with four engines and serving as a military transport variant of the World War II-era DC-4 airliner, departed Fairbanks International Airport at 9:55 a.m. on April 23. It carried 3,400 gallons of fuel oil and two 100-gallon propane tanks.

Shortly after takeoff, a witness observed that the plane’s No. 1 engine, positioned on the outermost portion of the port wing, was not functioning.

While investigators are still in the initial stages of their inquiry and have yet to ascertain the origin or cause of the fire, Johnson highlighted the No. 1 engine as the primary focus of their investigation.

Eyewitnesses in the vicinity, located approximately seven miles south of the Fairbanks airport, observed the plane’s descent. Farmer Mike Emers recounted to Fairbanks public radio station KUAC that the C-54 flew over his field just before crashing, a moment captured by his doorbell camera.

The pilots radioed Fairbanks air traffic controllers, reporting “a fire on board,” and requested permission to return to the airport. Radar data depicted the plane initially heading southwest and west before executing a left turn back towards the airport before losing signal.

“The No. 1 engine separated from the wing about 100 (feet) above the ground and eventually came to rest on the frozen Tanana River,” investigators said.

After the crash, a fire consumed a significant portion of the airplane’s structure, although the No. 1 engine was recovered. A thorough examination of the engine is pending.

“It’s back in Wasilla, and we’re getting a plan together to be able to look at that engine in a very elaborate laboratory-type environment,” he said.

The NTSB will dispatch an engine specialist from Washington, D.C., with assistance from Alaska Air Fuel personnel, to facilitate the examination of the Pratt & Whitney 2000-series radial engine.