Medicaid flight crashed, was filled with goods, masonry mortar


Questions remain about the De Havilland DHC-2 Beaver that crashed on July 18 at the Willow Seaplane Base in Willow.

The flight was approved, paid for, and chartered by the State’s Medicaid Travel Office and was loaded full of building materials, propane tanks, food and other items, as well as a Medicaid passenger and her son, age 2, who were returning from a medical appointment. The round-trip flight was paid for by Medicaid, but there’s no evidence the masonry and food was paid for by Medicaid.

The reason for the bags of masonry and other building supplies being on the plane, which was heading to a home to a lake near Skwentna 61 miles north of Willow, have not been explained by the State of Alaska.

But Alaska’s generous Medicaid benefits have led to criticism about medical tourism and shopping trips that are paid for by State and Federal dollars.

Pilot Colt Richter, 24, was killed when the plane crashed and was engulfed in flames; the passengers escaped and the wreck caused a brush fire.

[Read the obituary for Colt Richter here]

Here is the entire report from the NTSB, the National Transportation Safety Board:

On July 18, 2018, about 1900 Alaska daylight time, a float-equipped De Havilland DHC-2 (Beaver) airplane, N9878R, impacted tree-covered terrain following a loss of control during the initial climb from the Willow Seaplane Base, Willow, Alaska. Of the three people on board, the airline transport pilot died at the scene, and the two passengers received serious injuries. The airplane was destroyed by a postcrash fire.

The airplane was registered to Laughlin Acquisitions, LLC, and operated by Alaska Skyways, Inc., dba Regal Air, as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 135 visual flight rules on-demand passenger flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and company flight following procedures were in effect. The accident flight originated from the Willow Seaplane Base about 1900 and was destined for a remote, unnamed lake about 61 miles northwest of Willow.

The operator reported that the accident flight was chartered by the Alaska Medicaid Travel Office to provide roundtrip transportation for one passenger from her private residence at the remote lake, to the Willow Seaplane Base and return. The operator flew the passenger and her 2.5-year-old son from their home to Willow Seaplane Base on July 16, and the accident flight was the chartered return trip to their residence.

On July 19, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator-in-charge (IIC) reviewed Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) archived automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) track data concerning the accident flight. According to the ADS-B track data, on July 18, the accident airplane departed from the Lake Hood Seaplane Base about 1755 and arrived at the Willow Seaplane Base about 1818.

Witnesses reported that after arriving at the Willow Seaplane Base, the pilot loaded the passenger’s cargo, which according to a statement provided by the passenger, consisted of multiple bags of masonry mortar, three totes full of food and stores, two propane tanks, and miscellaneous baggage and supplies. Just prior to departure, the passenger was seated in the second row with her son on her lap.

As part of their company flight following procedures, Regal Air incorporates Spidertracks, which provides company management personnel with a real-time, moving map display of the airplane’s progress. According to archived Spidertracks data provided by Regal Air, the airplane began an initial takeoff run to the south at 1851. Numerous witnesses at Willow Lake stated that the airplane appeared heavy as they watched two takeoff attempts followed by a takeoff on the third run. At least three separate witnesses recorded the takeoff attempts on their mobile phones due to what they perceived as an unusual operation. Each witness stated that the airplane departed to the south and descended out of sight below the tree line. Soon thereafter, a loud airplane impact was heard.

At 1900, multiple residents in a neighborhood southeast of Willow Lake heard a loud impact and witnessed smoke rising above the site. A neighbor responded and discovered the passenger walking with her son in her arms, outside of the airplane which was engulfed in flames. The Willow Fire Department and Alaska State Troopers responded. The Alaska Rescue Coordination Center received a 406 MHz Emergency Locator Transmitter signal at 1901 and dispatched a HH-60 helicopter to the site.

On July 18, immediately after being notified of the accident, the NTSB IIC, along with an aviation safety inspector from the FAA’s Anchorage Flight Standards District Office traveled to the site.

The airplane wreckage came to rest in a level wooded residential lot in a nose down attitude. The postcrash fire incinerated the fuselage, empennage, floats, and cargo.

The airplane was outfitted with Aerocet model 5850 floats and equipped with a Pratt and Whitney R-985 radial engine.

The closest official weather observation station to the accident site was located at the Willow Airport, about 1 miles to the northeast. On July 18, 2018, at 1956, the station was reporting, in part: wind variable at 3 knots; visibility 10 statute miles; ceiling and clouds, clear; temperature 72° F; dew point 46° F; altimeter 30.15 inches of mercury.

The wreckage has been recovered and transported to a secure location for future examination.

[Read the rest of the NTSB report here]


  1. This cries out for an investigative reporter to really examine “access” in Medicaid. It is a bloated joke in this state. 70% or higher do not fulfill their medical appts. Really look at this!

  2. My firm belief is that a Governor Mike Dunleavy administration will efficiently get a handle of abuse of government funds, even as widespread as it is. So far as teaching a commercial pilot to do a weight and balance calculation, that is not a state responsibility so far as I know.

    • A kid like that is just logging hours, practically paying to be able to fly; he isn’t going to refuse any fare. Boats are the same way; you don’t want to think about how little experience most of the pilots and boat captains in Alaska have.

  3. Art: That “kid” you referr to was a very skilled and experienced pilot who may have made a mistake. But before pointing blame let’s wait for the NTSB report of probable cause. And just for your information the decision of where to fly is not made by the pilots at Regal Air or other float plane operations at Lake Hood. They are made by the owners and chief pilots.

  4. Smooth water take-off on a lake about 210 feet above sea level. But the temperature and barometric pressure would have made the plane act like it was trying to take-off at 1,100 feet . A common practice on smooth or glassy water is to rough up the surface by powering up and down the lake a couple times. This is sometimes mistaken by not seaplane pilots as attempted take-offs. I used to live in a bush village, where it was common practice to send people off to visit the “big city” with medical appointments that were never kept, or training that was never attended.

  5. Assigning a Beaver, an aircraft far more than capable of hauling an adult and child raises questions in and of itself.

    • The difference in cost between chartering a Beaver or a 185 is significant. It would be interesting to know why Medicaid agreed to pay for the Beaver.

  6. Absolute corruption on a daily basis with Medicaid in rural AK. There are so many other ways to serve people that flying one individual in for one appointment. Ridiculous and needs to change now.

  7. The crash and resultant death of a young pilot is tragic. The density altitude at that particular time was somewhat of a factor but the young man at the controls was in command. Not the company, not the chief pilot or anyone else. With a bit more than 50 years of hauling people in airplanes with no accidents I can very confidently say that the person at the controls at any given moment is the responsible party. Many unanswered questions as this tragedy unfolds but there is no question about who was at the controls and it was not some chief pilot flying a desk.Sincere sympathy to the family of the young man who lost his life.

  8. I have asked Senator Cathy Giessel to audit the Medicaid travel area to no avail. It seems as if it is too “political” to touch. Guess that is how it goes with “free” federal money. Legislators and Governor Walker, audit the Medicaid travel program now! Either that or CMS needs to do its own independent audit. BTW, the average Medicaid emergency travel cost is estimated at +$24,000.

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