FAIRBANKS—An Anchorage federal grand jury Wednesday indicted a Fairbanks pilot on two counts of obstructing a National Transportation Safety Board investigation and flying without a valid airman's license.
Forest M. Kirst, 60, was piloting a single-engine, four-seat Ryan Navion A plane with three passengers on board when he crashed on a hillside approximately 400 feet from the summit of the Brooks Range near Atigun Pass Aug. 24, 2014. Kirst and his passengers were seriously injured, and one of the passengers died 35 days after the crash.
The plane was operated by Fairbanks-based Kirst Aviation, an on-demand commercial sightseeing business.
The NTSB investigated and issued a final report in March of this year saying the probable cause of the accident was Kirst's “improper inflight planning and improper decision to deliberately operate the airplane at low altitude in close proximity to obstructions and rising terrain.”
The report also found Kirst had a "history of accidents, incidents, re-examination and check-ride failures" and that the Federal Aviation Administration erred in granting him a commercial air transport certificate "despite the pilot's history and concerns voiced by numerous FAA personnel during the certification process.”
According to a news release issued Thursday by the office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Alaska, the indictment alleges Kirst "mislead the NTSB about the altitude of his plane prior to the crash" and gave varying explanations of how the crash occurred.
Kirst's airman pilot certificate was revoked by the FAA, but Kirst was later seen flying his aircraft, according to the news release.
If convicted, Kirst faces five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The sentence will be based on the seriousness of the offenses and any prior criminal history Kirst may have.
Contact staff writer Dorothy Chomicz at 459-7582. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMcrime.