April 26, 2012 | Vol.42 No. 17

Former resident crashes plane in Fairbanks

Former resident and Chilkat Valley News advertising manager Zach Sheldon said he’ll continue his pursuit of flying following a solo air crash in Fairbanks Saturday that broke his back in three places.

Fairbanks News Miner
Fairbanks firefighters at the scene of the crash.

“The worst part is that it’s going to delay my certification,” Sheldon, a student pilot who hopes to fly commercially in Haines, said from an Anchorage hospital bed. He’s being fitted with a back brace and faces months of rehabilitation.

Sheldon, 29, was taking off from the east ramp at Fairbanks International Airport when the crash occurred. He said he had trouble keeping the nose of the Cessna 150 down during takeoff and when the plane left the runway it started climbing fast.

“The plane shot straight up and the stall horn went off,” Sheldon said. The plane came down on its front landing gear, from a height of about 250 feet.

Sheldon said a National Transportation Safety Board investigator found the nose of the plane was “full trim, nose up,” a gear setting that would have caused the plane to want to pull up.

Sheldon said he must have skipped a step – that would have adjusted those settings – while going through a pre-takeoff checklist.

Another pilot who’d been using the plane earlier in the day and was practicing short landings had apparently left the plane’s nose trimmed up, he said.

Wife Jenny Sheldon said this week she felt fortunate. “He’s doing amazing, considering the plane was completely destroyed. They all said he’s very lucky to be alive.”

On Tuesday, Sheldon said he was off morphine and feeling better. “It just feels like a sore back.”