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Press Release

Alaska Pilot Sentenced in Connection with August 2014 Atigun Pass Crash

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Alaska


Anchorage, Alaska – U.S. Attorney Bryan Schroder announced today that Forest M. Kirst, 63, of Fairbanks, Alaska, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Ralph R. Beistline to serve one year and one day in federal prison, to be followed by a three year term of supervised release. Kirst was also ordered to pay a $5,000 fine and a $200 Court Assessment Fee. In addition, as a condition of his supervised release, Kirst is not permitted to pilot a commercial aircraft during the term of his supervised release. Furthermore, he is not permitted to accept employment or be self-employed in any capacity as an aircraft mechanic without prior United States Probation approval.

After a ten day trial in November 2019, a federal jury deliberated just under 4 hours before convicting Kirst of two counts of obstruction of proceedings before a federal agency.

According to evidence presented at trial, a Ryan Navion airplane piloted by Kirst, d/b/a Kirst Aviation, was involved in an accident near Atigun Pass, Alaska, on Aug. 24, 2014. Three Canadian tourists were passengers aboard the airplane on a one-day sightseeing excursion before beginning an Alaska cruise. Kirst left Bettles, Alaska, and began flying too low over rising terrain. 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 were in the vicinity maintaining the Dalton Highway and servicing the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, and were able to respond to the crash. All passengers sustained serious injuries and one of the passengers died 35-days later as a result of his injuries. The accident was investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Kirst’s airman certificate was revoked by the FAA following the accident and Kirst appealed the revocation.

Kirst was convicted of lying to the NTSB and the FAA during their investigations when he stated during an interview with NTSB officials that he was at a higher altitude than GPS evidence showed, and lying during the NTSBhearings when he testified that his airplane dropped in altitude approximately 1,500 feet just prior to the crash.

The Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) conductedinvestigations leading to the successful prosecution of this case. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Retta Randall and Charisse Arce.

Updated September 10, 2020