Lovers collide in the skies

ON 3 September two freighter pilots – boyfriend and girlfriend – crashed into one another following an unsuccessful manoeuvre in Alaska (US), killing one.

Grant Aviation pilot Scott Veal, 24, was flying a Cessna 208 Caravan when he met up with 26-year-old Ryan Air Services pilot Kirsten Sprague in the skies over Nightmute, southwestern Alaska.

“They met up and flew in close proximity to each other,” Clint Johnson, senior air safety investigator on this case for the National Transportation Safety Board, explained. “Visibility was not a factor. Weather was not a factor. The fact of the matter is they were both willing participants in this manoeuvre that, unfortunately, had disastrous results.”

As Sprague was flying, Veal pulled up on the left side of her aircraft, at which point the two were “neck in neck, going the same speed,” Johnson said. Veal climbed and flew over to Sprague’s right.

Sprague recalls saying: “Scott, I can’t see you” and Veal responded, “Whatever you do, don’t pull up”.

“The next thing she knew, his airplane struck her right wing,” Johnson said. “After the collision, his airplane passed underneath her from the right to the left and basically nose-dived into the tundra.”

Veal died when the aircraft burst into flames and was almost entirely destroyed upon impact.

Sprague was able to safely land, without injury, in an isolated area of tundra. It took four hours for rescue helicopters from Bethel, about 100 miles (160km) east of Nightmute, to pick her up.

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