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The National Transportation Safety Board released its preliminary report in regards to the fatal March 5th crash of a wheel-equipped Cessna 172K 10 miles east of Nome on Monday.
According to the report, 28-year-old Thomas Granger was flying the aircraft from Wasilla to Nome. He had departed Wasilla at 5:10 PM that day for the five-hour nighttime flight. Prior to departing, Granger topped off his aircraft and two fuel containers with 35.3 gallons of fuel, according to fuel company records.
Grainger’s FAA Third Class Medical Certificate stated the restriction “not valid for night flying or by color signal control.” This restriction was due to Grainger’s color-blind condition.
The pilot’s fiancee told investigators that Grainger had made the trip to Nome approximately 20 times previously, but all those trips were made in the summer, this may have been his first attempt to make the trip in the winter.
Apparently, Grainger’s almost 600-mile trip was uneventful, and he did not run into difficulty until he arrived over Nome. Weather conditions at the time of his arrival over Nome at just before 10 PM that night were reported to be 10 miles visibility and a 400-foot ceiling.
The data on the plane’s Garmin GPS, that was recovered from the wreckage, showed that Grainger had made four attempts at landing at the Nome City Airport, which is unmaintained in the winter and has no lighting, before departing the un-plowed airport and flew to the east out onto the sea ice.
It is unknown why Grainger did not divert to the Nome runway one mile to the west instead of flying out onto the ice. That airstrip, in contrast to the City Airport, is maintained and lit.Grainger had been in contact with a friend in Nome and was actively texting back and forth. His friend had texted weather conditions, to which Grainger responded, “”Ok I think I can sneak in.” That text was followed by further attempts at landing and one text that said, “one more try,” then, “one more ok,” then “not happening.” After that he flew away from Nome.
A witness, who lives near the City Airport, saw the aircraft making several approaches, then ultimately depart to the east. A short time later, that witness said that he heard a message that sounded like “No, no,no” on the 123.6 MHz radio frequency. Following that, the witness said that he began monitoring 121.5 MHz for an emergency locator beacon, but heard none.
Grainger’s fiancee reported him overdue at 5:30 AM on March 6th, and an alert notice was issued at 6:06 AM. An area-wide airport and radio search was conducted, and at 9:59 AM, Nome Search and Rescue located the downed aircraft approximately 10 miles to the east of the city on the sea ice near Hastings Creek. Grainger was found deceased at the scene.
As of Wednesday morning, the aircraft wreckage was still on the sea ice.
The NTSB preliminary report can be read here.(PDF)