Investigators Arrive at Site of Fatal Plane Crash in Alaska

June 29, 2015 — Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) were able to finally visit the site of the fatal crash of a floatplane outside of Ketchikan on Saturday. The DeHavilland DHC-3 Otter turboprop plane crashed into a mountainside above Ella Lake on Thursday morning, killing all nine on board.

Seven officials from the NTSB spent much of Saturday scattered around the crash site, looking for clues as to what caused this tragedy. The floatplane, operated by Promech Air, was reportedly flying back to Ketchikan after a sightseeing excursion to the Misty Fjords National Monument when the crash occurred.

According to Fox Business News, investigators found that the plane’s wings and tail had broken off during impact. However, the fuselage was still largely intact. The cause of the crash is still unknown, and officials are quick to say it is too soon to speculate at this time.

They will be looking at several things, including weather conditions, the pilot’s qualifications and training record, aircraft maintenance and inspection records, as well as communication between pilots in the area at the time of the crash. According to NTSB board member Clint Johnson, the floatplane was flying in “uncontrolled air space,” when the crash occurred. Nonetheless, Johnson said the route is well-traveled, and that pilots in Alaska talk and help each other navigate the terrain.

In reaction to Thursday’s floatplane crash, Holland America Line has decided to suspend the sales of Promech sightseeing tours.

The Victims

All of those on board the downed plane, except for the pilot, were guests aboard the Holland America Line cruise ship Westerdam. The ship had departed from Seattle on June 20.

  • Bryan Krill, 64, of Hope, Idaho had just joined Promech Air earlier this year. Krill was an experienced pilot and had over 4,300 hours of flight experience. His lengthy experience included roughly 1,700 hours flying single-engine seaplanes.
  • Rowland Cheney, 71, and Mary Doucette, 59, of Lodi, California both found love in the twilight of their lives. Family members said Cheney, an artist who also raised Kiger mustang horses, was going to propose to Doucette on their vacation. The two had just recently lost spouses.
  • June Kranenburg, 73, and Leonard Kranenburg, 63, of Medford, Oregon were both well-liked in their community. June was a longtime dance instructor.
  • Margie Apodaca, 63, and Raymond Apodaca, 70, of Sparks, Nevada were both very outgoing and community-minded, according to friends. Margie had recently retired from a career in the U.S. Forest Service and her husband had also retired from the U.S. Postal Service.
  • Glenda Cambiaso, 31, and Hugo Cambiaso, 65, of Montgomery County, Maryland were on a father/daughter trip together. Glenda was a social worker who had attended the University of Maryland in Baltimore.

Are Floatplanes Safe?

In the wake of last week’s crash outside of Ketchikan, Alaska, many are wondering how safe it is to fly in a floatplane, especially in the remote wilderness of Alaska.

For the people of Alaska, the sight of floatplanes is more than an everyday occurrence-the plane is the lifeblood of transportation. They deliver mail and supplies, taxi locals to and from the state’s remote areas, and offer sightseeing trips for tourists.

But while the planes are vital for Alaskan transport, they do crash…quite a bit. According to the most recent data from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), there have been 697 floatplane accidents across Alaska over the last 30 years. Those crashes killed 258 people and left countless others with injuries. These startling statistics are owed in a lot of ways to the weather, specifically how unpredictable it can be.

“Alaska’s very challenging to fly in,” says Valerie Jokela, a former pilot who now works with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). “There are mostly mountain ranges that generate their own weather, and mountain passes and glaciers-and glaciers make their own weather, too.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, floatplane crashes claimed 24 lives in 1982 alone. Alaska Senator Ted Stevens died in a floatplane crash in 2010. The Senator was once quoted as saying plane crashes in his home state were an “occupational hazard of Alaska politics,” because flying is often the only way to travel to constituents. Cheryll Heinze, a former state legislator, died two years after Stevens in a crash that left her trapped in a submerged aircraft.

Some in Alaska feel that floatplane flying is even more dangerous than the blizzard-defying bush flying that residents in the northern part of the state see daily. Which is more dangerous isn’t really the point as both present risks that have resulted in dreadful aviation safety statistics for the state.

According to an Associated Press analysis of Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s Air Safety Foundation data, Alaska had a rate of 13.59 accidents per 100,000 flight hours between 2004 and 2008, which was more than double the comparable national rate.

While authorities are still uncertain what caused last week’s crash, one thing is for certain: flying floatplanes in Alaska is a dangerous business. If you have been a victim of a floatplane accident, it is in your best interest to speak with an experienced aviation attorney at Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman. Our firm has a strong history of delivering favorable results for the victims of floatplane accidents. 

Contact us today for a free case evaluation.

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