Updated: Six dead as NTSB begins Alaska seaplane crash probe

May 15, 2019
Alaska cruise seaplane craSH
Photo: US Coast Guard

The death toll from a mid-air collision between two seaplanes carrying cruise ship passengers in Alaska increased to six as the National Transportation Safety Board started its probe into the tragedy.

The six people, including an Australian and a Canadian,  died when a DHC-2 Beaver and a  DHC-3T Otter, collided about 10 miles northeast of Ketchikan,  Alaska, about 12:20 pm Monday local time.

The passengers were from the ocean liner Royal Princess, which was on a seven-day Alaska cruise from Vancouver to Anchorage, and were on scenic flights operated by different tour companies.  The area, which includes the scenic Misty Fjords,  is a busy spot for seaplanes during the summer.

The de Havilland Otter was carrying 10 passengers and a pilot while the Beaver has four passengers and a pilot.

One of the seaplanes. Photo: US Coast Guard.

The crash occurred in uncontrolled airspace near the George Inlet about 480km south of the Alaskan capital of Juneau and ABC News reported the passengers were on excursions sold by the cruise line.

One was operated by Ketchikan-based Taquan Air,  which suspended operations, and the other by another local firm, Mountain Air Service.

NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy said the agency would have 14 people on the ground, including three from Alaska.

She emphasized information was preliminary but showed both planes were inbound to Ketchikan when they converged at between 3200 and 3300 feet on the west side of the inlet.

The preliminary data showed Taquan plane was on a southwest heading when it descended from 3800ft  to between 3200 and 3300ft while traveling at about 126knots (149mph).

“The second plane, the Mountain Air plane, was on a west-southwest heading, also inbound to Ketchikan, maintaining an altitude of about 3300ft at 106knots, which is about 125mph,” she said.

Homendy said investigators had requested flight track data from the US Federal Aviation Administration and wanted to see if other planes in the area.

It then wanted to match that data with an electronic flight information system on the Taquan plane.

Taquan said in a statement: “The Taquan family is devastated by yesterday’s events and we are extremely grateful for the outpouring of support from our neighbors and friends from around the world.

“We are grieving the loss of life suffered in this tragic incident and our hearts go out to the passengers, pilots and families of both flights.”

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Four people were initially reported dead and the US Coast Guard conducted a search for two missing people in the vicinity of the George Inlet Tuesday using with the cutter Bailey Barco, an Air Station Sitka MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew and two Station Ketchikan 45-foot Response Boat-Mediums.

The Coast Guard said 10 had been rescued and were receiving medical care. It said the nationalities of those involved in the crash were 14 Americans, one Canadian and one Australian.

The two remaining victims were found near the crash site of Beaver by a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter that guided the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad to the location.

They were among a number of agencies to take part in the search over more than 27 hours.

“We have been in regular contact with the family members throughout our search efforts,” said Sector Juneau commander Capt. Stephen White.

“This is not the outcome we hoped for and extend our deepest sympathies during this very difficult time.”

Princess Cruise Lines issued a statement saying it was “incredibly distressed” by the situation and it was extending its full support to traveling companions of the guests involved.

ABC news reported weather conditions in the area included high overcast skies with 9mph (14kmh) southeast winds.