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FAA to Investigate Crash of Boy’s Plane in Alaska : Too Many Passengers Suspected

Times Staff Writer

Federal authorities today launched an investigation into the crash of a plane containing 11-year-old Tony Aliengena and seven members of his round-the-world flight crew, saying it appeared that the plane was carrying two more passengers than was legal.

A charter pilot familiar with the airstrip in the tiny village of Golovin, where the crash occurred Tuesday, said it appeared that Tony’s father, Gary Aliengena, who was piloting the craft, also mistakenly turned the wrong way on the runway and tried to take off with, instead of against, the wind.

The single-engine Cessna Centurion traveling at 50 to 60 m.p.h. was blown off the runway by intense crosswinds and down a 50-foot embankment onto marshy tundra, where fuel in one wing exploded into flames. All eight people aboard escaped without serious injury.

Bump on Head

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Tony, the San Juan Capistrano boy who has been piloting the plane on an itinerary chosen to make him the youngest pilot to circumnavigate the globe, escaped with a bump on his head that did not require treatment.

A replacement aircraft has been found to continue Tony’s flight, which has been dubbed Friendship Flight ’89.

Paul Steucke, spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration in Anchorage, said today that investigators were being dispatched to Golovin but had not yet arrived. He said all information on the crash so far had come from Gary Aliengena.

He said the crashed plane had eight passengers but seats and seat belts for only six people. Such a violation of federal regulations could result in a $1,000 fine and suspension or revocation of a pilot’s license.

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Mark Heinz of Golovin, a charter pilot who has flown in and out of the village for five years, said Gary Aliengena tried to take off in the wrong direction.

Treacherous Runway

“I can’t imagine an experienced pilot doing that unless he is tired or in a hurry,” Heinz said.

Heinz said the runway is one of the most treacherous on Alaska’s Seward Peninsula.

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Other pilots, however, said Aliengena had reacted skillfully once the plane was blown from the runway by applying full power and keeping the plane’s nose up, preventing what could have been a fatal accident.

“I was worried something like this would happen,” said Lance Allyn of Hanford, Calif., one of the project’s chase-plane pilots.

Allyn said that Gary Aliengena had already flown to Anchorage from Golovin early Tuesday because a Soviet journalist accompanying the group to Golovin had been injured in a vehicle accident. Aliengena, short on sleep, had planned to sleep two hours, then fly back to Nome and send a charter service to bring back the people left in Golovin.

Insisted on Return

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Allyn had, instead, arranged for another pilot to make the return flight so Aliengena could remain in Anchorage and rest. But when Aliengena learned of the arrangements, he was enraged and insisted on returning to Nome, then flying to Golovin.


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