Victims in floatplane crash near Metlakatla identified

A downed floatplane is towed to the beach Monday near Metlakatla. (Photo by Thomas R. Leask)

The investigation into Monday’s fatal floatplane crash near Metlakatla on Annette Island has begun, and both victims have been identified.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigator and two Federal Aviation Administration officials arrived on scene today.

The passenger was 31-year-old Sarah Luna of Anchorage, an epidemiologist with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. The pilot was 51-year-old Ron Rash of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

According to a statement from ANTHC, Luna was traveling to Metlakatla to see patients.

The Taquan Air Flight crashed while landing in the waters of Metlakatla Harbor at about 4 p.m. Monday.

The NTSB says witness statements indicate the DeHavilland Beaver flipped on impact and quickly submerged. Clint Johnson is chief of the NTSB Alaska Regional office.

“They said some time during the touchdown, the right float dug in, the airplane cartwheeled a number of times,” Johnson said. “The right wing was severed and the airplane came to rest inverted, upside down. Obviously the cockpit and the passenger was submerged.”

Johnson says the two victims were recovered by Metlakatla responders and others. In addition, Taquan Air brought two Guardian Flight medics who assisted with resuscitation efforts. Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad, U.S. Coast Guard crews and good Samaritans also responded to the crash.

Johnson says that the wing that hit the water is still missing. The rest of the plane has been recovered. Johnson says a barge is set to bring the wreckage to Ketchikan to do a full investigation.

“If everything goes as planned, that wreckage will be back first thing in the morning so they can start documenting,” Johnson said. “Then they’ll start the witness interviews or the interviews at Taquan.”

Johnson says the NTSB has not identified a cause for the crash, though he says witnesses have said that the weather was slightly windy, normal for Southeast Alaska. He says there was about 10 miles of visibility from Annette Island.

This accident comes exactly one week after a fatal mid-air collision involving a Taquan Air Otter and a Mountain Air Service Beaver, both providing flightseeing tours. In that crash, six people died and 10 survived. Johnson says the last of the NTSB crews investigating that crash had left yesterday morning about five hours before yesterday’s crash.

In a statement today, Taquan said that it was suspending all flights until further notice.

Alaska Public Media’s Wesley Early contributed to this report.