• Recovery crew reaches site of deadly Alaska plane crash

    By: KIRO 7 Staff

    Updated:

    A recovery crew reached a remote site on Friday afternoon in southeast Alaska where a sightseeing plane crashed, killing all nine people aboard.

    The passengers aboard were on a sightseeing flight that was an excursion from a Seattle-based cruise ship. None of those who died are Washington residents, Holland America Line said Friday morning.


    QUICK FACTS:

    • Eight passengers, one pilot on float plane
    • Holland America cruise departed Seattle on June 20
    • The plane was reported missing Thursday afternoon
    • Aircraft was operated by Promech Air

    Holland America Line said the plane was part of a shore excursion sold through the cruise line. The eight passengers were on a seven-day Inside Passage cruise on the Westerdam, which docks in Magnolia. It  left Seattle on June 20 and had docked in Ketchikan Thursday.

    Clint Johnson, head of the National Transportation Safety Board's Alaska office, said rain and high winds prevented the recovery of the bodies off a cliff about 20 miles northeast of Ketchikan Thursday evening.

    Chris John, of the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad, said three members from his organization reached the site Friday and were securing the aircraft, which was sitting at a steep angle, in order to allow for recovery of the bodies. A Coast Guard spokesman said the remains would be taken to Anchorage to the state coroner.

    According to the Alaska Dispatch News, Alaska state troopers in Ketchikan got a report just after 2 p.m. Thursday that a float plane was overdue. They tracked an emergency locator transmitter that had been activated, and a helicopter operated by Southeast-based Temsco spotted the turboprop Otter plane by Ella Lake.  It had crashed in steep, mountainous terrain about 25 miles northeast of Ketchikan.

    It had crashed in steep, mountainous terrain about 25 miles northeast of Ketchikan.

    The United States Coast Guard and local search and rescue teams were called to the site of the crash.  A medical crew was also sent to the scene.


     

     "It's kind of hanging on the side of the mountain,"

    -Jerry Kiffer, president of the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad

     


    Jerry Kiffer, president of the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad told the Alaska Dispatch News the plane was sitting on a 60-degree slope at the base of a cliff.

    "It's kind of hanging on the side of the mountain," Kiffer said. "The floats, of course, are broken off, and it's actually (lying) on top of the floats with the tail hanging out over about a 30- or so foot drop."

    The aircraft was operated by Promech Air. Holland America Line has suspended selling all tours offered by Promech.

    <center><img src="http://media.cmgdigital.com/shared/img/photos/2015/06/26/40/45/b95acd474b744e0c9b290641d7db87e4-46e2127dff2046f9a7aeda3beb05f757-1_1.jpg"</center>

    "There is nothing I can say that can alleviate the pain and overwhelming sense of loss that we and the loved ones of those affected are feeling," said Marcus Sessoms, president of Promech Air. "At this moment, all of us share the pain and anguish of this terrible event.  Our thoughts and our prayers go out to everyone touched by this tragedy."
     
    All indications from people on board the cruise ship is that they are returning to Seattle and canceling the rest of their trip.
     
    "We are incredibly distressed by this situation, and our thoughts and prayers are with those onboard the plane and their families. Holland America Line is extending its full support to traveling companions of the guests involved," Holland America said in a statement.
     
    Alisa Brodkowitz is an aviation attorney who represented families of the victims killed on an flight excursion from a Holland America cruise in Mexico in 2001.  Sixteen passengers from the Seattle area were killed in a plane crash when they were on a University of Washington Huskies football tailgate cruise.

    "What sorts of responsibilities really should the cruise line have in telling its passengers about the risks involved in flying in a small airplane in Alaskan terrain with low cloud ceilings, low visibility in rough terrain?" said Brodkowitz.

    She said in the 2001 incident, passengers were not warned of the risks. She also said during the investigation, it was revealed that other passengers had complained about the safety the charter in Chichen Itza, Mexico, and Holland America still sold it.
     
    Brodkowitz looked up the safety history for Promech Air for the last several years. ;National Transportation Safety Board records show a Promech Air plane lost power and crash-landed, injuring two passengers in 2013. In 2005, there was an in-flight fire. A passenger helped put it out with a fire extinguisher.  NTSB blamed an inadequate annual inspection.

    The company also had two planes collide in 2002.  The tail number of the plane involved in Thursday's crash has not been released.

    "What sort of safety audit did Holland America do on Promech? Did they have any reason to be concerned about the safety of the shore excursion?" asked Brodkowitz.
     
    The Westerdam is expected back in Seattle on Saturday morning.

    Below is the statement in full from Holland America:

    "On Thursday, June 25, 2015, a small float plane owned by Promech Air that was operating a shore excursion sold through Holland America Line was involved in an accident approximately 20 miles northeast of Ketchikan, AK, near Ella Lake. The flight carried eight guests from ms Westerdam and a pilot.

    The United States Coast Guard and local search and rescue teams are on their way to the site of the accident. The condition of those onboard the plane is not known at this time.

    We are incredibly distressed by this situation, and our thoughts and prayers are with those onboard the plane and their families. Holland America Line is extending its full support to traveling companions of the guests involved.

    Westerdam is sailing a seven-day Inside Passage cruise roundtrip from Seattle that departed June 20."

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    The Associated Press contributed to this report

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