Man Survives Second Plane Crash

By Karen Aho – Anchorage Daily News Reporter
Republished with permission

Down in Alaska – two slightly injured – saved by GlaStar cage
I learned about flying from that…

Don Blanc, 77, crashed his single-engine GlaStar near Northway Junction on the way to Bristol Bay from Beaver Creek. His grandson, 29-year-old Robert Teeter, survived. Photo: Civil Air Patrol.
Don Blanc, 77, crashed his single-engine GlaStar near Northway Junction on the way to Bristol Bay from Beaver Creek. His grandson, 29-year-old Robert Teeter, survived. Photo: Civil Air Patrol.

Don Blanc gassed up his single-engine GlaStar at Beaver Creek and pondered the weather report. Clouds where he stood. Fog hugging the mountains in Alaska’s southern Interior, where he wanted to go. It’ll clear, he thought.


Blanc, 77, had to get his grandson to Bristol Bay for the salmon opening, just two days away. “What I know about weather, the sun burns a lot of stuff off,” said Blanc, a pilot since 1954. “And then a lot of time too if you get a right dew point the fog turns to rain and it’ll lift again. “It didn’t turn out that way.”

Hours later, Blanc was deep in a cloud and running out of gas.

Hours later, Blanc was deep in a cloud and running out of gas. The last thing the air tower at Northway heard while guiding him in by radio was that he’d run dry.

The plane dropped in the worst of places, on a steep mountainside dense with 40-foot spruce trees. Yet Blanc and his grandson survived with the smallest of injuries, thanks to the reinforced cockpit of his homebuilt airplane. Blanc had a cut over his eye that required four stitches. His grandson, 29-year-old Robert Teeter, had a bruised leg. “I credit the fact that we’re alive to the aircraft and to the integrity of the way the steel cage is built,” Blanc said Thursday, a day after the crash.

Blanc spent two years and $75,000 building the kit plane. The cockpit has the equivalent of roll bars on a truck, a steel cage that’s attached directly to the wheels, wings and seat belts. “We landed hard and the seat belt never broke or gave way, and it just held us right there,” he said. “We could have been killed but weren’t. So I guess I had an angel on my shoulder.”

It’s the second time Blanc has been victim to Alaska’s weather, and he’s suffered much worse. In 1989, Blanc and his wife, Afton, were aboard a commercial Beaver floatplane out of Kodiak. The pilot got clearance to fly through Buskin Pass when the clouds suddenly sank. Socked in with zero visibility, their Beaver floatplane crashed into a mountainside. Blanc pulled two pregnant women, a toddler and his own badly injured wife from the burning wreckage. The pilot, who had two broken legs, opened his own door and rolled to the ground. Blanc yanked the burning seats from the plane then extinguished the remaining fire with dirt, twigs and leaves he scooped with his swollen hands.

The mangled GlaStar wreckage.
The mangled GlaStar wreckage.

“I’m telling you this,” said Afton Blanc, “because he was a hero at that time also.” Her entire body was broken, her head scalped, her face crushed, her legs swollen with third-degree burns. Don Blanc gave her what first aid he could and carried her to a clearing. Then, his own body crushed and bruised, he rolled and jumped down an 800-foot cliff out of the clouds. When he spotted an aircraft, he held an incendiary flare up even as it burned down to his hands. Rescuers got in, and everyone survived. The crash put him in a wheelchair and he couldn’t use his hands for months after. After 20 years in Alaska, they had to move to a warmer climate to ease Afton’s recovery.

When Don Blanc’s plane crashed Wednesday 8.5 miles northeast of Northway Junction, Blanc remained cool, said his wife. He turned off the equipment, flipped on the emergency locater and attempted radio contact. But the clouds were too thick for spotter planes, and a ridge blocked ground-to-ground communication.

Jim Moody of Northway and his father, Floyd Seigler, went up in their Cessna 172 to look for them. They couldn’t find them but made air-to-ground radio contact. “I was surprised when he called me on the radio and said he was OK,” Moody said. “Normally the trees rip the wings off and devastate everything.”

While searchers looked for him, Blanc stuffed a sock in the gas tank to suck out what little gas was left to start a fire with wet brush. A Fish and Wildlife Protection Trooper spotted the smoke from his Super Cub. The plane was enmeshed in woods so thick that an Alaska Air National Guard helicopter had to drop rescuers and guide them to a clearing where the chopper could land.


The next day, Blanc had hired a helicopter out of Wasilla to retrieve the plane. The plane had spun around 180 degrees on impact but remained in one piece. Blanc put the plane on a trailer Friday and hauled it up to Fairbanks, where he’ll put it in a hangar at Chena Marina and get started on repairs.

“I don’t want to waste any time,” Blanc said. “My wife says I loved it more than her, but that’s not true.” Today is the couple’s 55th wedding anniversary. “It’s not a joke,” she said from Arizona. “But then he had enough love for me too that I wasn’t jealous.”

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Omar Filipovic
Omar Filipovic is president of the Glasair Aircraft Owners Association as well as the chief tinkerer and content editor for this website. He is also the web editor for Kitplanes Magazine. Omar is building a GlaStar in Portland, Oregon.