Super DC-3 Belly Landing at Merrill Field, Alaska
Last Wednesday, the 8th of December 2021, a 69-year-old Super DC-3 landed wheels-up at Anchorage airport in Alaska. Everyone cheered.
The Super DC-3 is a later version of the DC-3 with a longer fuselage, increased stabiliser surfaces and more powerful engines. The first flight of the Super DC-3 took place in 1949. This Super DC-3, registration N28TN, was produced in 1952.
Since 2007, the Super DC-3 has been owned and operated by TransNorthern Aviation, an Alaskan airline who takes pride in their vintage aircraft, offering cargo and passenger flights to some of the most remote airstrips in Alaska.
The Super DC-3 was departing Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport for a 90-minute cargo flight to Kodiak Island. Only the flight crew, two pilots, were onboard.
However, directly after take-off, the right engine failed and the flight crew declared an emergency. They had initially requested to return to runway 7 at Anchorage International using left turns only. After the first turn, they decided instead to divert to Merrill Field Mountain View Airport, a general aviation airport in downtown Anchorage. Merrill Field has three runways: 5/23 is 610 meters, 16/34 is 805 meters and runway 7/25, their best option, is 1,219 meters (4,000 feet). To compare, runway 7 at Anchorage International is 3,231 metres (10,600 feet).
“We don’t get too many DC-3s coming through Merrill Field,” said Edward Munson, who has worked at the airport for years.
But the DC-3 couldn’t afford to be choosy: they were only able to climb to 900 feet and with only one engine powering the aircraft full of cargo, their options were limited.
The crew did not extend the landing gear which has caused some confusion in the mainstream media but it seems clear that they were desperate to reduce drag in any way they could. As it is, the aircraft clipped some trees on the final approach to Merrill’s runway 7. They landed safely and although watching the video made me cover my eyes at one point, the aircraft skidded to a stop before running out of runway.
The NTSB is investigating.
The video above shows a montage of the footage taken by witnesses and CCTV with the ATC audio overlaid (please click through to the website if you can’t see the video). You can also download the original audio on LiveATC.net: just click on TNV123 N28TN DC3 Emergency Merill Alaska
The aircraft was lifted off the runway with a crane and the airport was able to re-open about six hours later. One mainstream news article stated that “It was not immediately clear if the plane was damaged .” I… I think we can assume that yes, the plane was damaged. At the very least, that poor DC-3 needs a good belly rub and some new propellers.
This is the second DC-3 that TransNorthern has damaged this year; in August, a passenger flight came off the runway at Goodnews, Alaska. The Super DC-3 in this week’s incident appears to be the last of their operational DC-3s.
Munson quickly thought to grab the video along the runway as the aircraft landed (included in the montage I’ve shown above starting from 00:30). He later said that he heard the aircraft before he saw it. “…It was flying super low. I didn’t see it until it was pretty much right on runway 7 here. And I noticed it was only running on one engine, it’s landing gear was up, and he just barely made the runway. [It] kind of hit the snowbank and kind of hurtled to a stop on the runway.”
That landing looked pretty perfect to me, under the circumstances. My favourite comment on Reddit was by someone known as Likesdirt: “It’s fine. The pilots probably aren’t much younger than the airframe and have done this before.”
The DC-3 probably has as well, to be fair. I hope this wasn’t its last flight.