New report states plane was loaded with masonry mortar in deadly Willow Lake crash

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - More than a week after the deadly plane crash near Willow Lake, which claimed the life of 24-year-old pilot Colt Richter, officials have issued a preliminary report detailing what witnesses reportedly saw on that day.

Fire from Willow plane crash as seen from the air (Courtesy Doug Glenn)

Richter, 24, of Anchorage, was flying for Regal Air with two passengers on board on July 18. The passengers survived the crash, though were seriously injured, and Richter was killed in the crash, near where the plane took off from Willow Lake. The flight, chartered by the Alaska Medicaid Travel Office, was headed to FBI Lake in the Skwentna area, where a woman and her 2-year-old son were returning home.

According to the report, issued by the National Transportation Safety Board on Monday and approved for release Tuesday, the plane, a float-equipped De Havilland DHC-2 or Beaver, crashed into trees after a loss of control during the climb after takeoff.

According to the NTSB report, the plane was also loaded with the passenger's cargo.

"The pilot loaded the passenger's cargo, which according to a statement provided by the passenger, consisted of multiple bags of masonry mortar, three totes full of food and stores, two propane tanks, and miscellaneous baggage and supplies," investigators learned from witnesses.

The report says multiple witnesses at Willow Lake saw the plane fail two takeoff attempts and "appeared heavy" while doing so, dipping off the water. Finally, in the third attempt, the plane took off. Three separate witnesses recorded cell phone video of the takeoff, because it was "perceived as an unusual operation."

"Each witness stated that the airplane departed to the south and descended out of sight below the tree line. Soon thereafter, a loud airplane impact was heard," the NTSB statement reads.

The next thing that happened after the impact, according to investigators, was a witness spotting the passenger walking from the crash site with her 2-year-old in her arms, the airplane "engulfed in flames."

The post-crash fire incinerated the plane and its cargo, the NTSB reported. Richter was pronounced dead at the scene.

Due to the fire damage, investigators will have to recreate the cargo and configure where it was positioned inside the plane, in order to determine the plane's center of gravity.

Noreen Price, NTSB investigator on this incident, said that she will be working with the woman who survived the crash in order to determine the cargo weight using receipts and other information.

Price said Tuesday that, right now and at this point in the investigation, "I have no evidence to suggest that the plane was overloaded."

Weather, often a large consideration for NTSB reports on plane crashes, appeared to be clear on the day of the crash, with 10-mile visibility and a temperature of 72 degrees.

Tuesday's report is preliminary and does not determine a cause for the crash. Further investigation will continue into the crash's cause, information that will be included in the final report at some time in the future.

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