Cruise ship passengers were among the four people confirmed dead Monday after two sightseeing planes collided off the coast of Ketchikan, Alaska. Another 10 people survived the crash and were taken to the hospital for treatment, including one person in critical condition. Two people remained missing as of Tuesday morning.
All of the passengers were on an aerial sightseeing tour arranged by Princess Cruises when the accident occurred at 1:08 local time. The cruise ship was on its way to Anchorage from Victoria, British Columbia, when it docked in Ketchikan Monday morning.
One of the airplanes, a de Havilland Otter seaplane, was operated by Taquan Air. That plane was carrying 10 cruise ship passengers plus the pilot. The plane was returning to Ketchikan from a tour of Misty Fjords National Monument, a popular optional shore excursion for cruise ship passengers spending the day in Ketchikan.
The other plane, a Havilland DHC-2 Beaver operated by an “independent tour” company, was carrying four cruise ship passengers and the pilot, according to Princess Cruise Lines.
Chris John, an incident commander with the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad, told the Anchorage Daily News that the Beaver plane appeared to have crashed on a steep rocky shoreline. The plane was upside-down and partially submerged.
The Otter crashed about a mile away on the other side of the inlet from where the Beaver crashed. That plane crashed in the water, a Coast Guard spokesman in Juneau told the Anchorage Daily News.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) sent investigators from Anchorage and Washington D.C. to Ketchikan to probe the crash. Authorities who immediately responded to the crash did not say what may have caused the planes to collide in mid-air.
Mike Andrews, who handles aviation litigation for Beasley Allen, noted, “In crashes such as this, pilot error is the first and most likely place to begin an investigation into what happened.” Mike is currently investigating the crashes of two Boeing 737 Max 8 airplanes that resulted in 346 deaths and the grounding of the aircraft. He is representing victims of the Ethiopian Airlines crash.
According to the Anchorage Daily News, the plane crash was the second Taquan Air plane to crash in less than a year. Last July, a Taquan Air plane crashed into the side of a mountain near Ketchikan. All 11 people aboard that plane survived, but some suffered serious injuries. An NTSB investigation found that a pilot switched off a warning system meant to prevent such collisions.
In June 2015, a DHC-3 Otter floatplane operated by Promech Air of Ketchikan crashed into a mountain as it was returning from an excursion to Misty Fjords. The crash killed eight Holland American cruise ship passengers and the pilot. Investigators said a poor safety culture within the company and flying despite adverse weather conditions contributed to the crash.
“We are deeply saddened by the tragic plane accident in Ketchikan yesterday, and are offering our full support to the investigating authorities as well as the traveling companions of guests involved,” Princess Cruises said in a statement.