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Baggage door opening eyed as potential cause of deadly small plane crash

Jan. 7, 2008, Anchorage, AK, - The door to a nose baggage compartment popped open just before a small plane crashed, killing six, one of four survivors told investigators.


January 7, 2008
By Rachel D'oro

Jan. 7, 2008, Anchorage, AK, – The door to a nose baggage compartment popped
open just before a small plane crashed, killing six, one of four
survivors told investigators.

The Piper PA-31 Navajo Chieftain crashed about 45 metres off the
end of a Kodiak Island runway after taking off Saturday afternoon,
according to the Federal Aviation Administration and the National
Transportation Safety Board. The wreckage was recovered Sunday.

Five followers of a dissident sect of the Russian Orthodox Church
died when the chartered plane went down in the shallow harbour after
taking off. The pilot also was killed.

Four people survived the crash Saturday, and one of them told
investigators that the door to a baggage compartment in the nose of
the small plane had popped open.

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“This does not signal an end of our investigation of the crash
by any means, but it at least played a part in it,'' Clint Johnson,
an investigator with the NTSB, said Sunday.

The passengers were members of Alaska's community of Russian
Orthodox Old Believers who had been fishing in Kodiak and were
taking a short flight north to Homer to celebrate Eastern Orthodox
Christmas at home on Monday.

The pilot of a float plane that had been taxiing nearby said he
pulled the four survivors aboard. One of the men was bleeding
profusely from a head wound, and all of them were hysterical, saying
that family members were in the submerged plane, Dean Andrew said.

“Once I got the four in, I could see down into the fuselage, but
I couldn't see any signs of life,'' Andrew said. “I had an
emotional time. I thought about diving in but I had to keep the
plane running to hold it steady against the wind.''

Andrew said he heard on his plane's radio that 50-year-old pilot
Robin Starrett said he needed to return to the airport. Andrew said
he could tell by Starrett's voice that something serious was going
on.

“I decided to stay put in case I was needed,'' Andrew said. “I
had a feeling something would happen.''

Johnson said a survivor, 32-year-old Karnely Ivanov, told
investigators that just as the Piper got airborne, the baggage area
door opened at the nose of the plane on the pilot's side. That
prompted Starrett to try to return to the airport.

Beside Starrett, also killed were five passengers from Homer:
Stefan F. Basargin, 36; Pavel F. Basargin, 30; Zahary F. Martushev,
25; Iosif F. Martushev, 15; and Andrian Reutov, 22, officials said.

Iosif Martushev was a ninth-grader at Kachemak Selo school, and
Reutov and Zahary Martushev were former students there, said Randy
Creamer, the school's principal. The small school sits near Homer on
the Kenai Peninsula in one of three area Old Believer villages.

Creamer described Iosif as an artistic student who loved to make
sketches of moose, snowmobiles and fishing boats. Zahary Martushev
was married and had several children, and Reutov got married last
fall, Creamer said.

Besides Ivanov, the survivors were identified as Feodot Basargin,
33; Andrean V. Basargin, 25; and Anton Rijkoff, 30. The flight was
operated by Kodiak-based Servant Air.

Russian Orthodox Old Believers split from the main Russian
Orthodox church in the 17th century in protest of changes made at
that time. Their members are scattered throughout Russia, Asia and
the Western Hemisphere. About 1,500 are believed to live in Alaska.

“Everybody knows everybody. It's a tragedy,'' said Greg Yakunin,
an Old Believer and fisherman. “They were all friends of mine.''

Two survivors were flown to Anchorage for treatment, including
Feodot Basargin, who was in fair condition, said John Callahan,
spokesman for Providence Health and Services Alaska. The conditions
of the other three were not available, but Alaska State Troopers
said the two who remained in Kodiak were treated and released.

Servant Air serves half a dozen communities on the large island
in south-central Alaska, 362 kilometres southwest of Anchorage.
Kodiak and Homer each have populations of roughly 6,000.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS