The Sublette County Journal
Volume 5, Number 5 - 9/28/00
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
Former Pinedale hockey coach reports he's on the mend
by Jennifer Binning
It is a traveler's worst nightmare. Just as your airplane is about to land, the pilot loses control and the plane crashes in a heap upon the ground. Not everybody walks away from this one. This is exactly what happened to former Pinedale resident Greg Noble, a federal petroleum engineer who had recently relocated to Anchorage, Alaska from Pinedale.
Mr. Noble sounded battered and in a great deal of pain during an interview on Sunday, though he said he sounded worse than he felt due to his jaws being wired shut.
Greg and a co-worker were heading to Nuiqsut, a small North Slope village of roughly 500 people located above the Arctic Circle about 135 miles east of Barrow, in order to catch a helicopter to a remote oil well pad on the North Slope. The two boarded the plane, a twin engine Piper 1040 operated by Cape Smythe Air, along with seven other passengers and one pilot for a quick commuter flight from Dead Horse at about 2:45 p.m. The flight was uneventful until the plane crashed while attempting to land at Nuiqsut, 15 minutes and 65 miles after takeoff, according to a report on CNN's web site.
Mr. Noble said the plane began to descend into Nuiqsut and as it touched down, it became immediately apparent that the landing gear was not down. Witnesses on the ground confirmed this, according to CNN and the Anchorage Daily News. The pilot, Lee Jason Ostendorf of Barrow, apparently realized his error and pulled the aircraft up and began to bank into a turn while he lowered the landing gear. "I thought 'He'll catch this,'" Mr. Noble said in an interview with the Anchorage Daily News. As the plane continued to bank to the left, the side Mr. Noble was sitting on, he realized they were in trouble, "I thought 'well, we're hitting. There's just no way out of it.'" Apparently the plane was about 100 feet in the air when it began to have trouble.
Passengers in the rear of the aircraft told the Daily News that they then saw smoke coming from one of the engines and the pilot was unable to correct the situation. The plane continued to bank, right into the ground.
The plane, which has one seat on each side of the aisle, burst into flame upon impact with the tundra at the end of the Nuiqsut airport runway. Four of the 10 on board were killed, apparently those who were in the front of the aircraft, suspects Mr. Noble.
As the plane filled with smoke, Mr. Noble helped one rather disoriented man get out of his seat belt, and moved toward the safety of the frigid air outside.
According to the Daily News, Mr. Noble and another passenger were standing on the right side of the plane when two other passengers joined them. One of them, Mark Reardon of Wasilla, emerged in flames. "He was in terrible pain. He was screaming 'Put me out! Put me out!'" Mr. Noble then took off his coat and extinguished the flames.
Emergency crews arrived immediately, and the six survivors were taken to various regional hospitals.
Listed in fair condition for several days and suffering from a broken nose, upper jaw and palate, Mr. Noble finally went home to his wife Peggy and son Nate on Friday, four days after the accident. Sadly, Mr. Reardon, the man Greg tried so valiantly to save, passed away in the Harborview Medical Center Burn Unit in Seattle over the weekend.
The National Transportation Safety Board flew to the crash site within days of the tragedy, and interviewed Mr. Noble on Saturday. Calls to the Anchorage office of the NTSB were not returned on Tuesday.
Interestingly, according to CNN, another Piper 1040 operated by Cape Smythe Air landed safely in Savoonga when the pilot of that aircraft also forgot to lower the landing gear last January, and in February the airline had two additional accidents with injuries to crew or passengers. CNN also discovered that the Federal Aviation Administration had issued a recommendation six months ago to Cape Smythe Air that they use 2 pilots in their aircraft, as well as improve the supervision and training of their pilots. The recommendations were not mandatory, and there was only one pilot on Mr. Nobles' flight.
The Nobles, who moved from Pinedale just a few weeks ago, have been receiving notes and phone calls from their friends in Sublette County since news of the accident hit the airways, which has brought a great deal of comfort to the family. "I have heard from good friends I missed saying good-bye to when we left," said Mr. Noble, which has helped to keep his spirits up while he recovers. The children at the Christian School where Peggy worked as a secretary sent a huge care package of get well cards and although initially shaken, the Noble's young son Nate is beginning to recover from the shock of it as well. Peggy's daughter, Cathy Saxton of Pinedale has also been the recipient of many calls of support, for which she is beyond grateful. It has made a very difficult time in their lives a little easier to bear.
The Noble's address in Anchorage is: P.O. Box 234257, Anchorage, Alaska 99523.
With characteristic courage, and through tightly wired jaws, Greg wants his friends in Sublette County to know that he is "on the mend." <
Photo credits: Jennifer Binning, Photo courtesy of the Noble family
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