Alaska floatplanes collided at 3,300 feet before crashing

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KETCHIKAN, Alaska (AP/KTUU) - Two sightseeing planes carrying cruise ship passengers in Alaska collided at about the 3,300-foot (1,006-meter) level before they crashed, the National Transportation Safety Board announced after a team arrived from Washington, D.C., to investigate the crash.

Two Alaskan flightseeing planes crash in Ketchikan, Alaska / Source: Google Maps via MGN

The two planes collided in mid-air Monday, and the Coast Guard raised the death toll to six people on Tuesday after finding the bodies of two people who had been missing. Five of the dead were passengers and the sixth was the pilot of one of the planes.

Federal investigators said the larger plane, a de Havilland Otter DHC-3 with 10 passengers and its pilot, had descended from 3,800 feet (1158 meters) feet and collided with a smaller de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver, carrying four passengers from the same cruise ship, the Royal Princess, and the pilot.

The federal investigation into the cause of the crash could take months, but a preliminary report is expected to be released within two weeks, said Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the NTSB.

Coast Guard Lt. Brian Dykens said Tuesday evening that his agency and the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad found the two bodies of those who were missing near the crash site of the smaller plane involved in the collision, a single-engine de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver.

The planes came down about a mile and a half (2.4 kilometers) apart, with some of the debris falling on land near George Inlet, about 8 miles (13 kilometers) from the cruise ship port of Ketchikan.

The Beaver, the smaller plane, appears to have broken apart in midair, according to Jerry Kiffer, duty incident commander of the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad. He said the plane's tail and section of the fuselage were 900 feet (275 meters) from the aircraft's floats, which landed near shore.

The smaller plane was partially submerged in the shore of George Inlet after the single-engine plane overturned and hit some trees before crashing, according to Coast Guard Lt. Brian Dykens. The larger Otter landed in water and sank, he said.

One passenger on the larger plane died, as did two passengers and the pilot on the smaller plane, Princess Cruises said in a statement.

Alaska State Troopers released the names of the people killed in Monday's deadly collision between two float planes in Ketchikan, Alaska.

While the city of Ketchikan is mourning the loss of local pilot, 46-year-old Randy Sullivan, people across the globe are mourning as well.

The other victims have been named as:

Simon Bodie, a 56-year-old male from New South Wales, Australia.

Cassandra Webb, a 62-year-old female from St. Louis, Missouri.

Ryan Wilk, a 39-year-old male from Utah.

Elsa Wilk, a 37-year-old female from British Columbia, Canada.

Louis Botha, a 46-year-old female from San Diego, California.

Next of kin have been notified, and the Canadian and Australian Consulates have also been notified of the incident.

Sullivan was the owner of Mountain Air Service, and a flightseeing tour pilot. According to the company's website, Sullivan grew up in Ketchikan.

A KTUU reporter was at a press conference for the NTSB when Russell Thomas of Experience Alaska Tours said that Sullivan's death was hitting the whole town hard, including himself.

Thomas' lodge became the base of operations in the immediate response to the crash.

Sullivan was an extremely experienced float plane pilot, logging over 11,000 hours of flight.

The larger plane was operated by Taquan Air of Ketchikan and passengers booked the flights through the cruise ship as an excursion. The other plane was operated by Mountain Air Service of Ketchikan, and the four booked the flight independent of the cruise ship, Princess Cruises said.

After the crash, the 10 injured people were initially taken to a hospital in Ketchikan. Four patients with broken bones were later transferred to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, spokeswoman Susan Gregg said.

Three survivors were released from PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center in Ketchikan on Tuesday. Hospital spokeswoman Marty West says the remaining three are in fair condition.

The Royal Princess left Vancouver, British Columbia, on May 11 and was scheduled to arrive in Anchorage on Saturday.


Associated Press writers Martha Bellisle in Seattle, Rob Gillies in Toronto and Michelle A. Monroe in Phoenix and KTUU reporters Hank Davis and Alexis Fernandez contributed to this report.

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