Cruise ship returns to Seattle after 5 passengers, pilot die in sightseeing tour

The Nieuw Amsterdam cruise ship has returned to Seattle after five of its passengers were killed in a day trip plane excursion crash near Ketchikan, Alaska.

Seattle resident, Jeny Staiman, stood near Pier 91 Saturday morning, anxiously awaiting its return.

“I might get choked up about it because it does feel very personal,” she said.

Her 12-year-old daughter, Lauren, was on board.

“I was imagining my daughter, how happy she was going off on vacation with her friend, without parents,” Jeny Staiman said. “And then, what if she didn’t come home? It’s just horrifying to imagine that.”

Thursday afternoon, Jeny Staiman got a call that would shock any parent.

“(Lauren) said emergency crews were combing the ship and at some point the staff decided to tell the rest of the ship that there were five passengers missing,” Jeny Staiman explained.

At the time, her daughter was more than a thousand miles away, docked in Ketchikan, Alaska.

“I remember that it was something like, ‘All right, we will not be leaving the port for a little while as these five guests have not returned. Local search and rescue teams have been alerted and we will update you as we can,’” Lauren Staiman said, recalling the captain’s initial announcement.

“This kind of feels like a movie,” Lauren Staiman said. “Chances are they probably landed somewhere and everything’s fine. We’ll just get back a little late.”

A few hours later, Lauren Staiman said the captain made a second announcement confirming the deaths of the five missing passengers.

The five took a day trip excursion with Southeast Air LLC, a small sightseeing aviation company based in Ketchikan.

The plane, a 1965 de Havilland Beaver floatplane, crashed as the pilot was returning the five passengers to Ketchikan from Misty Fjords National Monument, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Searchers located the wreckage on a ridge line. Rescue swimmers later confirmed there were no survivors.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the crash, but according to the U.S. Coast Guard, they were flying in inclement weather conditions.

“Weather conditions on scene were eight (mile per hour) winds, visibility of two miles, ceilings of 900 feet with a mist and light rain,” Coast Guard said.

According to Alisa Brodkowitz, an aviation attorney, “In (the NTSB) investigation they’re going to be talking to Southeast Aviation and understanding what information their pilot had in order to make the decision to take the flight that day.”

The six victims have not been identified and their bodies have not been recovered.

Alaska State Troopers said further inclement weather has halted recovery efforts.

State police said the steep terrain and dense vegetation at the crash site also present a challenge. They told KIRO-7 that they hope to resume recovery efforts Sunday, weather permitting.

Meanwhile, fellow passengers are back in Seattle, disembarking with heavy hearts.

“I do still remember how sad it is. It is something that I’ll think about for a little while,” said Tracy Davis, a fellow passenger and Lauren Staiman’s chaperon for the trip. “It’s just so sudden. It’s such a sudden death and a death that shouldn’t have happened.”

While the flight was part of a private excursion not sold by the Holland America Line, the cruise ship company is offering counseling services to passengers.

In a statement to KIRO-7, Holland American Line said: “All five guests on board the plane and the pilot did not survive. We understand that notifications of next of kin by relevant authorities are underway, and counseling services from Holland America Line have been made available to guests and crew who would like extra support. This floatplane excursion was independently operated by Southeast Aviation and not sold by Holland America Line. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the victims and with our guests and team members who are affected by this tragedy.”