November 25, 2019
Jury Convicts Alaska Pilot Charged With Obstructing Federal Proceedings
On November 25, 2019, in U.S. District Court, Anchorage, Alaska, a jury found Forest M. Kirst guilty of obstruction of proceedings before Federal agencies, but not guilty of piloting an aircraft without a valid airman’s certificate. Kirst is scheduled to be sentenced in February 2020.
Trial evidence demonstrated that on August 24, 2014, Kirst (d.b.a. Kirst Aviation) piloted a Ryan Navion airplane that was involved in an accident near Atigun Pass, Alaska. Also on board were three Canadian tourists taking a 1-day sightseeing excursion before beginning an Alaska cruise. Kirst left Bettles, Alaska, and began flying too low over the city’s infrastructure. After circling over a moose in a pond, the airplane lacked the power and altitude to clear Atigun Pass in the Brooks Range. The airplane crashed on the side of the mountain below the Dalton Highway and above a pipeline maintenance road.
Fortunately, numerous people—who were in the vicinity to maintain the Dalton Highway and service the Trans-Alaska Pipeline—responded to the crash. All three passengers sustained serious injuries, and one of them died 35 days later. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and FAA investigated the accident. During an interview with NTSB officials, Kirst said that he had been at a higher altitude than GPS evidence showed, and during the FAA administrative hearings, he testified that his airplane dropped in altitude approximately 1,500 feet just prior to the crash. The jury determined that neither statement was true and convicted Kirst for lying to NTSB and FAA during agency proceedings.