Did Cessna 185 N9725Z Break Up In-Flight over Alaska?

N9725Z

A fatal plane crash last month in rural Alaska left many unanswered questions, that the National Transportation SafetyBoard will take some time to investigate. The Preliminary Accident and Incident Report stated that the aircraft, N9725Z, a 1966 Cessna 185 Skywagon, crashed on February 4, 2021, under unknown circumstances in remote mountainous terrain near the Wrangell-St Elias National Park and Preserve, northeast of Chitina, Alaska. The aircraft was operated by the family-owned Copper Valley Air Service, based at Gulkana Airport in Glennallen.  It was en route from Gulkana (PAGK) to McCarthy Airport (PAMX) when it crashed. Read the Kathryn’s Report summary here.

Unfortunately, there were no survivors, and rough terrain made it difficult to locate the wreckage. According to Alaska Native News, it took two days for Alaska State Troopers and National Park Service to reach the scene of the crash, which was located in a wooded area on a slope. 

Two men tragically died in the crash. Pilot Christopher Michael Maize is listed in the FAA Airmen Registry as a commercial instrument-rated pilot with single-engine land, multi-engine land, and single-engine sea ratings. He was also a flight instructor. Passenger Andrew Broders, 36, also passed away in the crash.  Broders was a resident of Washington State who owned a gold claim near Dan Creek. He was reportedly traveling to pan for gold when the plane crashed. 

In a GoFundme for Maize’s family, Maize was described as “a gentle, kind and humble man who was a diligent and careful pilot who loved sharing Alaska and the National Park with visitors.” Rest in peace Christopher Maize and Andrew Broders. Blue skies and tailwinds…

NTSB Looking For Answers

Alaska Native News reported that the NTSB was looking into whether the aircraft may have broken up mid-air. Debris was located in two distinct locations. One site contained the aircraft’s fuselage, wings, and engine, while the other site had a tail section of the aircraft. 

Anyone with information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board investigation should contact the NTSB by email eyewitnessreport@ntsb.gov, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email assistance@ntsb.gov.

Armchair Investigators Search for Cause of Crash 

Online forums and comments on Facebook posts are rich with speculation and theories. On one Aviation Accidents post, commenters theorized that the aircraft appeared to have an inspection panel installed in the tail section, above the horizontal stabilizer. What some say looked like a “patch” was likely Aeropod’s STC Aft Fuselage Inspection Panel Kit

We know that the 185 has a history of cracks in the tail clone and horizontal stabilizer attachment. The AOPA reported on this in May 2020, and service letter was issue by Cessna on December 7, 2017.

The FAA adopted an airworthiness directive on 12/07/2020 which was prompted by a report of cracks found in the tailcone and horizontal stabilizer attachment structure. The directive requires inspecting the aircraft’s tailcone and horizontal stabilizer section for corrosion and cracks and repairing or replacing damaged parts as necessary. The FAA said it determined that the development of cracks in the tailcone and horizontal stabilizer attachment structure was due to a combination of the attachment structure design and high landing loads. You can read the airworthiness directive here

It’s important to emphasize the theories of Facebook commenters are not evidence or expert opinions. We don’t know what happened.  We don’t know if the recent Airworthiness Directive had been complied with, or if the tail of this aircraft even failed. Owners of Cessna 185s and taildragger Cessnas should pay special attention to this investigation and developments This investigation could impact maintenance requirements for thousands of Cessna general aviation aircraft. 

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