US pilot charged in crash that killed SA teen
July 08 2006 at 05:00PM
By Rachel d'Oro

Anchorage, Alaska - The pilot in a plane crash that led to a the drowning death of a teen from South Africa was charged with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.

Kurt Stenehjem of Anchorage was arrested on Thursday in connection with the felony charges stemming from the July 7, 2005, death of 17-year-old Mark Schroeder of Durban, South Africa.

Stenehjem, 55, and Schroeder were among five people on board the floatplane that crashed in calm weather into Johnstone Lake on the Kenai Peninsula. A floatplane is a plane equipped with pontoons so it can land on water.
Not wearing a lifejacket
Schroeder, who was not wearing a lifejacket, slipped into the glacier-fed lake while the others made it to icebergs with minor injuries.

Schroeder's mother, Lesley Schroeder McLean, said she saw "something cosmic" in the timing of the arrest - a day before the year anniversary of the crash.

Stenehjem is a longtime associate of the family. McLean's husband, Chris, is a former Alaska bush pilot and registered owner of the Maule M7-235 involved in the crash.

"From my heart, I just miss my son. I would rather have him back than have the pilot in jail," Lesley McLean said Friday from Durban. "But we do feel vindicated that justice has been served, although it's not a happy day for me."

State prosecutors could not be reached on Friday, but Alaska State Troopers and Federal Aviation Administration officials could not recall another an Alaska pilot involved in a fatal crash being criminally charged.
'Justice has been served'
Nationally, such prosecutions are uncommon, but not unheard of, said Phil Kolczynski, a Santa Ana, California-based aviation law attorney and former FAA trial attorney. Convictions are even more unusual, he said, typically involving alcohol or drugs - factors not present in the Stenehjem case. Far more common are civil lawsuits claiming negligence.

"It depends on the weight of the evidence," Kolczynski said. "If it weighs a ton, a prosecutor is doing exactly what they should be doing. On the other hand, some cases are politicised."

In its own investigation, the FAA found enough to issue a rare emergency revocation of Stenehjem's commercial pilot license, saying his lack of care and judgment justified immediate action. Among factors noted, the plane was equipped with only four seats even though there were five people on board, it was overloaded and had not undergone an annual inspection. Schroeder had sat in the back where gear was stored.

Stenehjem turned himself in to Anchorage authorities Thursday and was released less than two hours later after posting $50 000 bail. Stenehjem said Friday he has not been arraigned.

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