NTSB releases preliminary report on May 13 mid-air collision

One of two planes involved in the May 13 mid-air collision in Ketchikan’s George Inlet area. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

The National Transportation Safety Board has released its preliminary report for a fatal May 13 mid-air collision of two flightseeing planes in Southeast Alaska.

No probable cause for the crash has been determined.

Both flightseeing planes were returning to Ketchikan from a tour of Misty Fjords National Monument, carrying visitors from the cruise ship Royal Princess.

The Taquan Air pilot operating a deHavilland Otter told NTSB investigators that he was maneuvering the 10-passenger floatplane for a better view of a waterfall when he saw a flash from his left side closely followed by a loud impact. The plane rolled right and pitched about 40-degrees nose down.

NTSB said the planes collided at about 3,300 feet.

The pilot told NTSB that he was able to maintain some control as the plane went down. The plane landed in the inlet and came to rest about 80 feet underwater. The pilot, some passengers and good Samaritans helped evacuate the plane. One passenger on board the Otter died.

The pilot told investigators that he didn’t see any potential conflicting traffic on his flight display before the collision.

None of the five people on board the other plane survived. The deHavilland Beaver was operated by Mountain Air Service. According to NTSB, it broke up in the air, and debris was scattered over a 2,000-foot-long area, including the water and the nearby mountainside.

NTSB reports that the right wing of the Beaver showed a series of cuts that are consistent with impacts from a propeller blade.

A full accident report, including probable cause, will take up to two years to complete. In the meantime, NTSB officials have called for greater safety standards for on-demand flights, which include flightseeing tours and charter flights.

According to an NTSB news release those charter operators are classified by the Federal Aviation Administration as Part 135. NTSB Alaska Chief Clint Johnson said Tuesday in Anchorage that Part 135 is on the agency’s “most wanted” list for improvements.

“Basically what it is: Part 135 is an area that we think requires special emphasis,” he said. “Case in point, the last week or so kind of frames it up for why Part 135 operations is on our most wanted.”

Recommendations include implementation of safety management systems, recording and analyzing flight data and ensuring that pilots receive controlled-flight-into-terrain avoidance training.

The NTSB has not yet completed its preliminary investigation and report of another fatal crash near Metlakatla, just south of Ketchikan. The deHavilland Beaver operated by Taquan had two people on board. Both died in the crash.

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