Southeastern Alaska floatplane operator Taquan Air has indefinitely suspended all of its passenger flights after two deadly crashes involving its planes killed a total of eight people in one week’s time.
Ketchikan-based Taquan Air, which operates a fleet of de Havilland Beaver and de Havilland Otter floatplanes for commuter, freight, tour, and charter services, voluntarily ceased passenger flights May 21 until more is known about the two deadly floatplane crashes.
The company resumed cargo operations after discussing measures to reduce flight risks with the FAA’s Juneau Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), and the “FAA agreed with these measures,” spokesperson Ian Gregor told KTVA of Anchorage.
The agency said there will be an increased inspector presence and surveillance of Taquan Air when the company resumes its passenger flights.
The first crash occurred May 13 when a Taquan de Havilland Otter floatplane collided with another airplane mid-air killing six Princess cruise ship passengers among the two planes.
On May 20, a Taquan Air commuter flight crashed into Metlakatla Harbor a few miles south of Ketchikan, killing both people aboard – the pilot and a passenger. That flight was operating as a commuter flight when it crashed.
Witnesses who saw the most recent crash said that during touchdown, the right float of the de Havilland Beaver seaplane dug into the water, sending the aircraft into a cartwheel. The right wing detached as the plane flipped several times. It eventually came to a rest upside down with the cockpit and passenger area submerged.
The crash killed the pilot, Ron Rash, 51, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and passenger Sarah Luna, 31, of Anchorage. The day of the crash, Ms. Luna posted on Facebook that she was flying to Metlakatla.
“Juneau to Sitka to Ketchikan to Metlakatla! My first time off the road system and my first time on a float plane!!”
Dr. Luna worked as a liver disease and hepatitis specialist for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, the New York Times reported. Her employer said she had been flying to Metlakatla to visit patients at a local medical center – the same place she was taken to after the crash.
The crash occurred just after investigators probing the previous crash left the area, according to the New York Times.
Clint Johnson, the chief of the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) regional office in Alaska, told the press that it was “way too early to speculate” about the cause of the crash, adding that investigators would not assume a connection between the two deadly crashes.
“I have to stress that each one of these are separate events, they are being investigated separately, we have two separate investigators in charge that are looking at different things,” he said, according to the New York Times. “The accidents are different in nature, but obviously Taquan is the common denominator here.”
Mr. Johnson also said that weather conditions in the area had been good at the time of Monday’s crash, with winds of 10 miles per hour, visibility more than 10 miles, and “a light chop on the water.”
The May 13 crash that killed six people and injured 10 others occurred when a Taquan Air HC-3T Turbine Otter descended by several hundred feet and collided with the smaller plane that had been flying at a more stable altitude, investigators said.
The cruise ship passengers who were killed and injured in that crash were on a Royal Princess cruise ship for a seven-day journey billed as a “Voyage of the Glaciers,” Princess Cruises said.
“Taquan decided to resume cargo-only operations last week after they discussed risk-reduction measures with the FAA’s Juneau Flight Standards District Office (FSDO). The FAA agreed with these measures,” spokesperson Ian Gregor wrote in an email.