The Cessna that crashed into the central Cascades on Sunday, killing nine skydivers and their pilot, will be hauled out of the rugged wilderness piece-by-piece so federal aviation and insurance investigators can attempt to reconstruct what happened.
Debra Eckrote, regional director of the National Transportation Safety Board's Northwest Regional Office, said the Cessna 208 Grand Caravan has to be moved because the terrain makes it impossible for investigators to spend a long time at the crash site. She said the aircraft will be moved this weekend to a hangar in King County or near Yakima.
"When it's inter-terrain like this it is a challenge. The team has to be extra careful," she said. "It's a mile hike in; it is steep and heavily wooded. It's pouring down rain on them. It's tough."
She said NTSB investigators spent Tuesday and Wednesday scouring the site. She said they photographed the wreckage Wednesday, but said that spotty cellphone service in the rural area made it impossible to know exactly what investigators were seeing.
Eckrote said it may take months, or even years, before investigators determine what caused the crash. Unlike larger aircraft such as airliners, the Cessna was not equipped with a flight-data recorder, which could tell what happened in the minutes before an accident. She said investigators may have to reconstruct the cockpit or the engine to get their answers.
NTSB officials in Washington, D.C., will examine air-traffic radar records and weather at the time of the crash. The background of pilot Philip Kibler, as well as the aircraft's mechanical records, will also be examined, Eckrote said.
"As far as I know there is no air traffic communication" between Kibler and a local control tower, she said.
Contrary to earlier reports, Kibler was hired by Kapowsin Air Sports of Shelton, Mason County, to pilot its plane bound for a weekend "boogie" a gathering of fellow jumpers in Star, Idaho. The group of skydivers from Skydive Snohomish climbed aboard because the empty plane was headed for the event, said Elaine Harvey, co-owner of Skydive Snohomish.
The Caravan has been under international scrutiny because of a spate of crashes during icy conditions. It has been the subject of directives from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Safety Board of Canada warning against operating in icy conditions. A cold front had just swept through the area near White Pass where the plane went down. The temperature in the White Pass area was 33 degrees at 5,800 feet; it was overcast with light precipitation and probably clouded over between about 4,500 feet and 5,800 feet between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday, the National Weather Service said.
Geoff Farrington, Kapowsin's co-owner, said its 1994 Grand Caravan had never had previous mechanical problems. Kibler said his family has never had one of their planes involved in a fatal crash.
However, a plane owned by the company was "substantially" damaged when it struck trees during a forced landing near Kapowsin, according to the NTSB. Farrington said the NTSB never determined what caused the 2003 crash.
During the decade that Kibler had been a pilot he flew for skydiving schools in several states, Harvey said. She said Skydive Snohomish hired Kibler, a 46-year-old native of Troy, N.Y., earlier this year as the pilot of its Cessna Caravan for the busy summer season that wrapped up last month.
Harvey describes Kibler as "a very good pilot" whom she selected out of a large pool of applicants hoping to become the school's summertime pilot.
"He always erred on the side of safety," Harvey said. "He wouldn't leave the ground if he was concerned at all about weather conditions." Skydive Snohomish is in the midst of planning a remembrance for all 10 victims, Harvey said. Of those killed, six had at some point worked at the school and four others were members of the school, Harvey said.
"I'm feeing the pain physically and emotionally," Harvey said. "It's a gaping hole in our staff and in our community."
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org
A remembrance for crash victim Casey Craig is at 2 p.m. Saturday at Inglewood Presbyterian Church, 7718 N.E. 141st St., Bothell.
The church's Web site is www.inglewoodpc.org. Memorial information for the nine other victims has not been released.