Pilot blamed in crash that killed Oregon family

Pilot blamed in crash that killed Oregon family

Credit: Alaska State Troopers

Four members of a Tualatin family died in a fiery seaplane crash near Ketchikan, Alaska.


by Associated Press


Posted on August 15, 2009 at 1:36 PM

Updated Thursday, Sep 24 at 4:49 PM

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- The National Transportation Safety Board says a pilot's poor decision-making and inadequate planning caused a plane crash in Southeast Alaska that killed six people, including members of an Oregon family.

Clifford Steve Kamm, the pilot of the de Havilland DHC-2 floatplane, and two women survived the August 2007 crash near Ketchikan.

The crash occurred about 20 miles north of Ketchikan shortly after the floatplane left the Traitors Cove area after a two-hour bear-viewing tour.

The aircraft, operated by Seawind Aviation, took off directly into strong winds, banked steeply to the left after going airborne and then crashed into trees along the bay, sparking a fire.

Three-year-old Allison Smith of Tualatin, Ore., was critically burned and Killed in the crash were her parents -- Eric M. Smith, 37; his wife Christine L. Smith, 36 -- , twin brother Trevor R. Smith and grandfather David R. Mayer, 60, Oregon City, Ore., as well as Daniel J. Herron, 49, of Irvine, Calif.

The only survivor among the Oregon family members was the girl's grandmother, Mindy Mayer of Oregon City, Ore.

"In this type of an accident, we don't have any data recorders to go back to and analyze and take a look at," said NTSB investigator Clint Johnson. "All that we're able to go by is witness accounts and the physical wreckage."

According to the accident report, Kamm told the NTSB he had 17,000 flight hours and 7,000 hours in a de Havilland DHC-2. He said southeasterly winds were increasing, causing choppy waters, while he waited for the tour to return to the plane. Kamm could not be reached Thursday, but his wife, Lesley Kamm, said her husband did not take off in strong winds.

The report says that to avoid the rising waves, Kamm decided to take off toward the sheltered interior of the bay, in a direction of rising terrain that he had not attempted before.

As he tried to turn the de Havilland around, the plane struck a downdraft, which held it from climbing above the closing landscape, and caused the plane to stall at about 60 feet, according to the NTSB.

No mechanical problems with the aircraft were found during a post-accident inspection.

The report concludes that the pilot put the plane into an aerodynamic stall as a result of "poor decision-making and inadequate planning and execution when he took off toward nearby rising terrain, in strong winds, under circumstances where his options for maneuvering were severely limited and where his safety margin was, thus, insufficient."

The Federal Aviation Administration previously conducted its own investigation -- assessing the number of seat belts on board and prevailing weather conditions -- and determined no punitive action was required, said FAA spokesman Mike Fergus.

"They did not find any violation of careless or recklessness," Fergus said. "We did ask the pilot to take a reexamination, which he did 13 months after the accident when he recovered from his injuries. ... He passed that with no problem."

Seawind Aviation, a joint venture between Kamm and his wife, remains in operation.

Lesley Kamm said she was upset by what she called the inaccuracy of the report, saying conditions were breezy from where her husband took off. She said he was burned in the accident and hospitalized for two months. She said he was heavily sedated the only time he was interviewed by investigators. She said there were no plans to contest the report, however.

"They've already come out with this," she said. "I doubt they would come back and correct what they've just done."