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'Flying Wild Alaska' star Jim Tweto dies

Reality TV star, Alaska aviation icon killed in takeoff accident

Jim Tweto, the patriarch of a family aviation business in Alaska whose fame endured a decade after his somewhat reluctant star turn on television, died June 16 when the Cessna 180 he was flying failed to gain altitude after takeoff. Family friend Shane Reynolds, of Orofino, Idaho, also died.

Photo courtesy of Discovery Channel.

Alaska State Troopers reported that an SOS message from a portable satellite communicator received just before noon alerted them an aircraft was down about 35 miles northeast of Shaktoolik. Troopers were dispatched from Nome to recover the bodies of Tweto, 68, of Unalakleet, the Alaska town that his family put on the nation's map over three seasons of Flying Wild Alaska on the Discovery Channel, and family friend and outdoor guide Reynolds, 45, whom Tweto's daughter Ariel described as "a wonderful hunting guide and friend of our family."

Ariel Tweto, whose close bond with her father and whose own flying adventures drove much of the interest in the show, broke the news of her father's death on Instagram, followed by a tribute on Father's Day that included photos and a video that she urged followers to watch with the sound on. The short clip shows her father navigating a river strewn with broken ice, maneuvering his ATV through water as a young woman's voice calls him "mister invincible."

The accident was witnessed by a third person in the hunting party who remained on the ground, the Anchorage Daily News reported. The FAA and NTSB are investigating.

Tweto's death prompted an outpouring of grief and remembrance on social media, and in the Alaska media. Henry Cole, a civil engineer from Fairbanks who flew with Tweto two weeks before the accident, told KTUU that Tweto was "a legend in the aviation community in Alaska, not even just for the show … that he did, but for all the years he's been flying."

Tweto, who moved from Minnesota to Alaska to play hockey on a college scholarship, told AOPA in 2011 (the height of the television show's popularity), that Flying Wild Alaska was Ariel's idea—along with producers and executives at Discovery Channel, who gave her a viral moment on an obstacle course that led to brainstorming a show about her family's aviation business in Unalakleet. Tweto and his wife, Ferno, with whom he raised three daughters, had not been looking for television opportunities.

“I’m a proud father,” Jim Tweto told AOPA Pilot. “I’ll do whatever I can for my daughter.”

He already had more than 30,000 hours in his logbook by the time the television crews showed up, and he loved the Cessna 180 most of all of the 70 aircraft in the company fleet.

“The 180 is a nimble little airplane,” Tweto said. “I fly it 300 to 400 hours surveying for fish and game and really enjoy surveying for salmon at 200 to 300 feet. It’s got big tires and a big engine so I can land pretty much anywhere I want.”

Jim Moore
Jim Moore
Managing Editor-Digital Media
Digital Media Managing Editor Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot, as well as a certificated remote pilot, who enjoys competition aerobatics and flying drones.
Topics: People, Accident, Media

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