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Anchorage Pilot Dies During Unauthorized Flight



At 6:30 a.m. on Dec. 29, 2015, Doug Demarest, a 42-year-old pilot from Anchorage, Alaska, died during an unauthorized flight when his Cessna 172 crashed into a building in downtown Anchorage. His wife, Katherine, worked in the same building as a lawyer for Dorsey & Whitney, although she was not in the office when the crash occurred. 

Demarest started working for the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), a United States Air Force civilian auxiliary, in 2010. CAP consists of volunteers who help homeland security, search and rescue, and disaster relief organizations throughout the country. CAP officials told FOX News that Demarest was not authorized to fly the plane, but they offered no explanation about how the pilot managed to access the Cessna.

No other injuries have been reported. The crash happened in an area surrounded by hotels, restaurants, and office buildings. Most of the businesses had not opened yet. Kent Haina, a UPS pilot, witnessed the incident while he was taking out the trash. He saw the plane descend at a shallow angle and fly behind a building. He then heard the crash and saw a plume of black smoke. He said he remembered the howling wind and wondered why the pilot was flying in such conditions. Haina said the plane’s engines did not sound distressed, but the wind was blowing so hard, he could not be sure.

Two Anchorage buildings were affected by the crash. The plane soared over the shoreline and clipped a state employee building before crashing into a different structure. Bryn Vaaler, an attorney and chief marketing officer at Dorsey & Whitney, did not know whether anyone was on the sixth floor during the crash. According to the FBI, neither building suffered structural damage, and no one else was killed. The pilot who died during the unauthorized flight was alone in the plane.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) considers pilot error, mechanical problems, and weather conditions during their investigations. Clint Johnson, Alaskan region chief for the NTSB, claimed the crash occurred during blustery winds, but that may not have been the cause of the accident. More information is required to make an accurate assessment. The Federal Aviation Administration and the FBI are aiding in the investigation.

A line cook for the Snow City Cafe heard the plane hit a transformer and watched it go down. Some co-workers and he tried to reach the aircraft but were held back by the raging flames which enveloped the Cessna. The entire block lost power.

Alaska Governor Bill Walker was among the members of the responding team. He wanted to ensure the state employees were not affected. Don Tallman of the Anchorage Fire Department reported that the building appeared to be unoccupied at the time of the crash. Several roads were closed as the area was cordoned off by authorities.

The Anchorage pilot’s wife has not commented on the incident. She was one of the lawyers who worked, alongside the Alaska Innocence Project and the Alaska Office of Public Advocacy,  to free the Fairbanks Four. The Fairbanks Four, George Frese, Marvin Roberts, Kevin Pease, and Eugene Vent, were freed from prison after 18 years for a murder they did not commit.

After further investigation, more information will be released as to why the pilot who died chose to take an unauthorized flight in Anchorage Tuesday morning. For now, the only fatality is that of the pilot, and no other casualties have been reported.

By Rowena Portch
Edited by Jeanette Smith

Fox News: Pilot Killed When Small Plane Crashes Into Downtown Anchorage Building
KTVA CBS 11 News: New Details Emerge About Pilot Killed in Anchorage Plane Crash
ABC News: Pilot Killed in Alaska Crash Wasn’t Authorized to Fly Plane
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