Operators of flight that crashed near Tuntutuliak had 3 other incidents in 2019

A small single-propeller floatplane sits in a yellow field, its landing gear crushed underneath.
A de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver owned by Wade Renfro sits on the tundra after a failed takeoff attempt near Mountain Village in September 2019. (Photo courtesy Nate Herman)

The company whose plane crashed and killed five people last week, including the pilot, is owned by a family whose aircraft were involved in several incidents last year.

Yute Commuter Service, from its base in Bethel, offers flights to 20 different villages in Southwest Alaska, according to its schedule posted online.

Its parent company, Paklook Air, is owned by Wade and Jacqueline Renfro and is certified to fly a dozen different small planes, according to state and Federal Aviation Administration records. The Renfros also own a hunting and fishing guiding service, Renfro’s Alaska Adventures.

The two companies — Yute Commuter Service and Renfro’s Alaska Adventures — were involved in three incidents in 2019, according to National Transportation Safety Board records.

In April, an unexplained “complete loss of engine power” forced a Piper PA-32-300 plane to land on a “tundra-covered meadow” about 25 miles northeast of Bethel’s airport, according to a preliminary NTSB report. Neither the pilot nor the three passengers were injured.

In November, another PA-32-300 taking off from the village of Goodnews Bay crashed into a river about 60 feet from shore after an unexplained descent, according to another NTSB preliminary report. After water rushed into the airplane, the pilot yelled at the trainee to “get out now,” and the two stood atop the plane’s fuselage, with water between their knees and waist, before being rescued by a boat 20 minutes later, the report said.

And in September, a Renfro’s Alaskan Adventures DHC-2 Beaver floatplane had a takeoff from a lake go wrong when the pilot failed to complete a preflight checklist and did not extend the plane’s flaps, according to an NTSB report. The plane didn’t leave the water before hitting the shore, then skipped across the tundra until hitting a rise that collapsed its floats. The pilot and the two moose-hunters on board were uninjured, and one of the hunters, Nate Herman, said the company went “above and beyond to make sure we were okay.”

“We just got off and walked back to the lake, and another plane came back and picked us up,” he said in a phone interview Friday. “We were very impressed with how they handled our situation.”

A call to Wade Renfro for comment was not immediately returned.


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