From Alaska comes this tale of one of the more unusual aviation accidents I’ve come across.
At the end of the day, we landed in a wide river valley about two miles above where a glacier collided with a mountain wall, with the river cutting in between. We walked down to this point, safely along the mountain and well away from the glacier, to where a big blue glacier face stood opposite the mountain, and explored this spot for almost an hour, and took a lot of pictures. There seemed to be no threat, and even a comforting thought that any falling ice would easily be swept away by the swift river.
There was a small gravel bar on our side of the river, across from the glacier — and we decided that we would bring the plane into the gravel bar for a photo.
Once there with the plane, we walked around and took some photos, but within a minute of arriving, we heard some crackling in the ice. Before we could get in the plane to depart, a piece came down and instantly displaced the river beneath it, creating a 3 to 5-second blast of sand and water, comparable to an explosion. It shot across the river at us. I dropped my camera while instinctively putting my hands over my face and turning my back to the spray and blast, which swept me up the sand and gravel of the river bank. The plane slid sideways 30 feet, and was crushed up against a stationary block of ice, knocking the gear off and smashing one wing and the tail. The fuselage was twisted and the fabric open. The water sluiced back into the river and all was quiet, less than 15 seconds after it started. We were soaked to the skin.
10 days later, the plane had been moved 100 yards by continuous blasts of water from the calving glacier. The entire glacier had advanced far enough that when large pieces tipped over, they landed directly on the plane.
I got word from my friend who flew over the site on Aug. 7, more than a month after the incident, and he said that the terrain has changed so much that it was entirely unrecognizable from what it looked like the day the incident occurred. The glacier has advanced and covered the original site. There is no trace remaining of the plane.
I guess the moral of the story is, don’t land too close to calving glaciers! Not exactly a common aviation hazard, is it? I guess it proves once again (as if more proof were needed) that general aviation in the Lower 48 is rather less hazardous than in the Frozen North . . .