A man aboard a skiff was critically injured Wednesday when he was struck in the head by a float plane taking off from a Western Alaska river.
Travis Finkenbinder, a 41-year-old of Trapper Creek, was operating an 18-foot skiff on the Mulchatna River, and 34-year-old Benjamin Hancock of Anchorage piloted the deHavilland DHC-2 Beaver floatplane that collided with Finkenbinder.
McKinley Capital Management confirmed both men are employees of the capital investment firm’s flight department, which often takes clients and employees to remote areas to fish and to a company-owned lodge on Lake Clark.
“McKinley is a pretty close-knit family,” said senior vice president J.L. McCarrey. “We’re concerned for the welfare of our family.”
WHAT WENT WRONG?
At the time of the incident, the men were part of a group shuttling equipment from one fish camp to another, according to Alaska State Troopers spokesperson Beth Ipsen. The Beaver piloted by Hancock and another identical aircraft were being used to ferry the skiffs around.
“One of the Beavers on floats was taking off, and it hit a downdraft and it hit Travis in the head,” Ipsen said. “The pilot realized he hit something, landed, and saw the skiff basically turning in circles.”
Hancock taxied and stopped the boat with one of his floats.
Another aircraft in the group landed to assist and started transporting Finkenbinder to King Salmon to receive medical attention. Ipsen said he was later medevaced to Providence Alaska Medical Center.
Friday at 11 a.m., Finkenbinder was listed in critical at Providence, according to spokesperson Ginger Houghton.
According to Ipsen, the Beaver’s pilot has been devastated by Wednesday’s events.
“These guys are friends -- they work together, so as you can imagine it’s very upsetting,” Ipsen said.
McCarrey described both men as "very experienced pilots" and longtime McKinley employees.
Troopers were first informed of Finkenbinder’s injuries by the Bristol Bay Police Department around 6:15 p.m. Wednesday.
Officers from that department alerted the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration. NTSB’s chief Alaska investigator, Clint Johnson, said the incident will be investigated as an aviation accident.
“It is an accident that involved serious injury in conjunction with an airplane,” Johnson said.
Channel 2's Austin Baird contributed to this story