Local hunter survives Alaskan bush plane crash

By David Fleet
Brandon Twp. — An area hunter says he’s lucky to be alive.
It’s been about two months since Casey West, 36 a Brandon Township resident and 2004 Davison High School graduate, walked away from a bush plane crash in the remote Alaskan wilderness following a successful moose hunt.
“There are risks to all these hunts,” said West.
From mountain lion in Montana to black bear in Ontario to Wyoming elk, West, a registered nurse in the surgical ICU at Ascension-Genesys Hospital Grand Blanc, admits his strong passion for hunting adventures. However, last summer’s brush with death in the unforgiving Alaska back country pushed the limits of the veteran outdoors man.
Casey and wife Samantha have three children, ages 7,4 and 2. So when Casey started going out west for elk hunting, his wife Samantha acknowledged there was a high population of grizzly bears, so she took out a life insurance policy on him.
“It was a do-it-yourself moose hunt to Alaska,” he said. “This hunt to Alaska was a little more risky than my other hunts, so Samantha upped the life insurance on me to $1.3 million.”
So on Aug.11 they flew in from King Salmon Alaska, about 300 miles southwest of Anchorage. West along with a father and son hunting partners flew on a float plane to an unnamed lake more than 100 miles from civilization in the small town. The plan for the week-long moose hunt was to camp and climb up nearby hills, then use powerful scopes to “glass” a moose. Then when spotted, hike in the bull’s direction for a shot.
“The countryside is a bog,” he said. “With every step you sank down and waders were needed in some areas.”
Just as planned, on the second day the trio spotted a moose about two miles out, and hiked to within 140 yards and made a clean shot.
“That was a big mistake,” said West. “Packing the moose out was just miserable. It was a thick brushy area. A day-and-a-half of a two mile hike with more than 100 pounds of meat strapped to your back. It was awful. I had underestimated the size of the moose in the area.”
Not only did the moose weigh more than 1,000 pounds, the antlers were not only heavy but five-feet, eight-inches long.
West shot his moose on Aug. 13 and on Aug. 17 his partner was also successful.
Following a tsunami packing 85 mile-per hour winds that forced the trio to secure their tents and hunker-down, West messaged the pickup plane via a Garmin inReach. The satellite communicator for off-the-grid contact alerted the pilot back in King Salmon they were ready to return.
On Aug. 18, following a weather delay two planes were dispatched to pick up the three hunters and two moose. Because the original lake was too short for the added 1,400 pounds of the moose meat and pair of antlers, the pilots shuttled everything to a near-by larger lake, then repacked for the trip out. The greater water surface was needed to fly out the added cargo.
The plane that West was a passenger, took off to the north, due to embankments on the south, east and west sides that were about 15 feet high.
“As we came up out of the bowl (of the lake) a big gust of wind hit us and caused the plane to turn 60 degrees on to the wing tip which hit the water,” he said. “When the wing hit, that turned us left, and as the pilot tried to pull up to get out of the water we hit the bank of the lake. That shot us up and we came straight down. It happened very quickly, I put my left hand out and my right hand over my head. It was a crazy ride for a split second. We came to an abrupt stop, like something hit your whole body.”
West asked Cal, his hunting partner, in the backseat if he was OK? He then undid his seat belt, not realizing he was upside down in the plane.
“I fell to the ceiling,” he laughed. “The pilot yelled to get out the front windshield due to possible leaking fuel. So we crawled out the front and with my Garmin called in an SOS.”
The plane came to rest about 100 yards off shore.
West received cuts to his hands, the pilot was bleeding profusely from the head, while Cal was uninjured.
The second plane was still sitting on the water. The pilot along with Cal’s father watched the entire crash.
“Cal’s dad and the pilot thought we were dead,” he said.
Since Samantha, along with other family members were on his emergency message contact list, they were also notified of the plane crash, via the Garmin. Then, Alaska State Troopers called Samantha and confirmed the crash with no further information.
“There was a short time where she was freaked out,” he said.
The moose and other items stayed behind and the three were flown to King Salmon where they received medical attention. The pilot received 17 stitches to his head. West then contacted Samantha along with other family members they had survived.
The next day, they sent out two planes along with an investigation team, loaded up the moose to fly it all back to King Salmon.
“All said we should have been dead,” he said. “It was just luck, we are very fortunate the propeller did not come through the window, and the thousand of pounds of cargo did not come over on top of us. Not to mention we were loaded down with fuel.”
The pilot reported he never had time to hit the engine kill switch.
“The pilot was a 40 year veteran bush pilot,” he said. “This was his first crash. That was also his last flight, he retired back to his home in Maine. He’d had enough, that was too close. The pilot admitted he f**ked up.”
That pilot knows more than us, said West.
“That pilot had seen crashes, there’s no reason we should be walking away from that crash,” he said. “We did not realize it was so bad, until the investigators and others told us.”
The Federal Aviation Administration along with the Alaska State Police interviewed all involved. That investigation continues.
“It just happened to be a big gust of wind, coupled with bad weather and the load of meat,” he said. “We are very lucky to have walked away. It was also reported that the same plane had been in two other less major crashes.”
West arrived home to his father along with Samantha and kids.
“My wife lost $1.3 million, and was crying when I got home,” he said. “I asked her, ‘are you crying because I’m still here or you lost out on the money.’”
The moose meat arrived from Alaska but FedEx lost the cape and the antlers ended up in the wrong location.
“Of five packages, FedEx is terriable only the meat arrived,” he said. “Cal’s moose cape was delivered to a Walgreens. They lost my cape in Memphis, Tenn. and we never found the antlers.”
Still West is planning for the next hunt.
“I have to navigate waters with my wife and mom before go hunting out west again,” said West, who’s planning the next hunt. “They teamed up against me. If I could get drawn in Wyoming for an elk, that would be my next trip.”

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