NTSB: Southeast plane collision happened at about 3,300 feet

NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy speaks to media Tuesday afternoon at the Ted Ferry Civic Center in Ketchikan. Also pictured is lead investigator Aaron Sauer. (Photo by Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan)

A National Transportation Safety Board team of investigators has landed in Ketchikan to look into Monday’s fatal mid-air collision of two tour planes.

Six people are confirmed dead in the crash. Ten survived with injuries ranging from relatively light to severe. All the passengers were cruise visitors who came to Ketchikan aboard the Royal Princess cruise ship.

NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy spoke late Tuesday afternoon to media gathered in Ketchikan. She said the investigation will include 14 NTSB personnel, including three from Anchorage. Eleven already are on the island.

Homendy stressed that all information right now is preliminary and could change. But here’s what she knows: Two air tour operators collided mid-air at 12:20 p.m. Alaska time on Monday.

“The first plane was a DHC-3T turbine otter that was owned and operated by Taquan Air,” she said. “Eleven people were on board. One pilot and 10 passengers. The second plane was a DHC2 Beaver owned and operated by Mountain Air Service. Five people were on board: Four passengers and one pilot.”

Both planes were headed toward Ketchikan at the close of their tours. Homendy said the Taquan plane descended from 3,800 feet to between 3,200 and 3,300 feet at about 150 mph.

The Mountain Air plane was at 3,300 feet, flying at about 125 mph.

“The two planes converged between 3,200 and 3,300 feet on the west side of the George Inlet,” Homendy said.

That area is uncontrolled air space, so there was no contact with air traffic controllers. Neither plane carried a flight recorder.

Homendy said the NTSB investigation in Ketchikan will last up to a week. She said investigators will interview the pilot of the Taquan plane, surviving passengers, company employees and any witnesses. They also will gather evidence and information from the scene and from various parties, such as flight logs, flight plans, company operating procedures, and the maintenance history of the planes.

Homendy said NTSB investigators will hold another media briefing on Wednesday.