A plane on its way from Skagway to Juneau made an emergency water landing Monday morning. Everyone on board the aircraft swam safely to shore.
Haines resident Luck Dunbar was one of them.
“Well there you are, you’re sitting there thinking ‘This is it. This is it. Here we go,’” Dunbar recounted.
Dunbar boarded the Alaska Seaplanes flight around 5:30 a.m. Monday. The plane flew from Haines to Skagway to pick up three more passengers. Then, it headed for Juneau.
Dunbar is a commercial fisherman who was on his way to Sitka to get his boat. Once on board the flight, he took a nap. He woke up to what he describes as the engine making an unusual noise.
Soon after, Dunbar said the plane started to descend early. He asked the pilot what was going on.
“He pointed over by Coghlan Island and he said ‘I think we’re going to lay her down over here,’” Dunbar said.
According to the Alaska State Troopers, the pilot was Haines resident Joshua Poirier.
Poirier declared an emergency following an engine failure. That’s according to a press release form Seaplanes General Manager Carl Ramseth.
The troopers say Poirier made an emergency landing in the ocean, about 150 ft. from Coughlan Island.
Dunbar said after hitting the water, they were able to keep the plane upright.
“Josh, the pilot, did an amazing job,” Dunbar said. “He kept the nose up. We hit the water as slow as that plane could fly. Still keeping the nose up. By the time the nose hit we had lost enough momentum where we didn’t flip the plane.”
Then, they exited the aircraft.
“I opened the door without a problem,” Dunbar said. “Opened it up wide, reached down to unbuckle. There was water going up my arm pretty quick. I got unbuckled. I looked back, everyone was scrambling, doing their thing to get out of the plane. The back door opened. The pilot opened his door, I opened my door. Everybody scrambled, got out of the plane.”
All four passengers and Poirier swam to shore.
“We swam and swam and swam,” Dunbar said. “Not going to lie, by the time I got to the beach I was pretty exhausted. I had too many layers on. I was feeling pretty heavy, feeling pretty blessed to just relax and have my feet touch the sand of the beach of Coughlan Island.”
According to the troopers, an Alaska Seaplanes aircraft equipped with floats responded to the scene and retrieved the four passengers. Poirier stayed on the beach and was later picked up by Coastal Helicopters.
All of the passengers and the pilot were assessed by Capitol City Fire/Rescue and were released with no injuries.
Troopers say the plane that went down was a Cessna T207 on wheels. Its last airworthiness certificate was issued by the FAA in September 2015. It is set to expire in about a year. The National Transportation Safety Board and Alaska Seaplanes are working together to determine the cause of the accident.
Ramseth commended Poirier’s actions in the incident.
Dunbar thanked the airline, and credits Poirier for the success of the rescue.
“He did an amazing job,” Dunbar said. “He instructed us on exactly what to do at the proper time. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Josh.”
Alaska Seaplanes is based in Juneau and operates daily flights to communities in Southeast Alaska. Seaplanes gained a monopoly on its market after competitor Wings of Alaska shut down in March.
Dunbar said this incident has not deterred him from flying.
“I’ll be flying happily for the rest of my life knowing that can’t happen twice, right?” Dunbar said.
In fact, Dunbar got on another Seaplanes flight to finish his trip to Sitka the same day.
Update: This story has been updated with an interview from plane passenger Luck Dunbar. It also has been corrected with the correct spelling of Coghlan Island.