By Tim Elfrink and Alex Horton / The Washington Post
Two sightseeing planes collided Monday afternoon off the coast of Alaska, leaving five people dead, according to Princess Cruises. All 14 passengers on the two planes came from the cruise ship Royal Princess, which was on a seven-day trip from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Anchorage.
“We are deeply saddened to report this news and our thoughts and prayers are with those who lost their lives and the families impacted by today’s accident,” the company said in a statement, according to KOMO.
The two planes collided Monday at 1:08 p.m. local time, according to Princess Cruises, about eight nautical miles off Ketchikan, Alaska.
All four passengers on the independently operated tour flight died in the crash, Princess Cruises said, as did the pilot of that plane. The names of passengers killed have not been released; one was identified as a Canadian citizen.
Ten people were rescued, the Coast Guard said, but it is unclear if the pilot in the other plane was accounted for or missing.
One plane, a de Havilland Otter seaplane operated by Taquan Air, was carrying 10 guests from the cruise ship as well as a pilot, returning from a tour of the nearby Misty Fjords National Monument. The other aircraft, a de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver operated by an “independent tour,” according to the cruise line, carried four Royal Princess passengers and a pilot.
The Beaver appeared to have crashed on a steep rocky shoreline, partially submerged upside down in seawater, volunteer rescuer Chris John told the Anchorage Daily News.
U.S. Coast Guard planes and vessels scrambled a rescue mission after the crash, sending an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew and two 45-foot Response Boat-Medium crews from its base in Ketchikan.
The 10 rescued passengers were being treated at PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center, USA Today reported, and one of those patients was in critical condition.
Coast Guardsmen were aided by volunteers in the search, said Capt. Stephen White, the commander of the Juneau sector.
“In a remote area such as this, given our limited resources, we rely on our partner agencies and appreciate the support that good Samaritans have rendered to this point,” White said in a statement.
The Coast Guard said it is “unaware” of why and how the planes collided. The National Transportation Safety Board has sent a team to Alaska to investigate the crash.
In a statement, Taquan Air said it was “devastated” by the incident and suspended all scheduled flights as it cooperates with investigators, the Daily News reported.
Monday’s collision was the second crash involving Taquan in the area in the past year. In July, after a plane crashed into a mountainside, investigators concluded a pilot turned off a warning system that alerts to such collisions, the Daily News reported. All 11 people onboard survived, though some of them suffered serious injuries.
A 2015 crash in the same area was eerily similar to Monday’s incident.
A plane with cruise line passengers crashed into a mountain while returning from the Misty Fjords National Monument, killing all eight passengers and the pilot. Lax standards and flying despite poor weather led to the crash, investigators concluded, according to the Daily News.
The plane was operated by Promech Air. It was bought by Taquan the next year.