A Coast Guard cutter searches for a crashed chartered floatplane near Mutiny Bay M on Sept. 5, in Freeland. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

A Coast Guard cutter searches for a crashed chartered floatplane near Mutiny Bay M on Sept. 5, in Freeland. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

911 calls for Whidbey Island seaplane crash detail chaotic scene

911 calls reveal a plane that seemingly went straight down and plunged into the water.

By Paige Cornwell , Amanda Zhou and Greg Kim / The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — A floatplane turned nose down and plummeted into the water. There was an explosion that sounded like a massive firework. There was nothing left and the smell of fuel was overwhelming.

As the search continues for the victims of the Mutiny Bay plane crash that killed 10 people, 911 calls reveal a plane that seemingly went straight down and plunged into the water, followed by chaotic moments immediately after.

The 911 calls were obtained Wednesday through a public records request by The Seattle Times to better understand the flight’s final moments and to gather important details of what witnesses saw in the immediate aftermath, as officials continue to investigate what caused the crash.

Dozens of people made calls to the Island County Sheriff’s Office. Among them were emotional calls from people who believed their loved ones were on board.

The plane, owned by charter service Northwest Seaplanes, was traveling from Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands to Renton, when it disappeared from radar around 3 p.m. Sunday. The Coast Guard located one body but suspended its search Sunday after a fruitless day of searching by air and water.

One woman, whom a dispatcher believed to be among the closest to the crash site, was in a sailboat with her family in Mutiny Bay. She called 911, saying, “Oh no, oh no,” as the dispatcher asked questions. She was crying.

“There’s nothing left,” she said in the six-minute call. “It’s under the sea.”

Another caller described a white seaplane that “plummeted” and “abruptly turned nose down into the water.” She said she saw a splash, then heard an explosion.

“Did you see anything come outside the plane, fly out of the plane or anything besides just the plane go in?” the dispatcher asked.

“(I) saw nothing come out of the plane, just the plane go in straight and fast,” the woman responded.

Calls report several people who weren’t sure what had occurred but were going out on their boats to try to help. Around five to seven boats were on the water searching for people, one caller said from a boat.

A caller told a dispatcher they found a seat cushion and black plastic in the water and asked whether they should collect it in their nets.

After rescue vessels began searching for the passengers and remnants of the plane, two witnesses to the crash called 911 to redirect searchers. The callers said they saw the plane enter the water exactly halfway between Double Bluff and Bush Point, about a half-mile south of where they saw rescue boats initially looking, and with tides pulling the water further south. The operator said she would redirect the searchers.

In calls, dispatchers asked repeatedly if they could see any people or a wing. Callers described limited debris — one man described seeing little evidence of a plane crash — but a strong smell of jet fuel. The smell was so strong that the dispatcher advised one boater to keep their distance in case it ignited.

As reports came out about the crash, dispatchers also heard from family of people believed to be on board. A relative of Ross Mickel, 47, and Lauren Hilty, 39, and their young son, Remy, said she had heard about the crash on the news.

“I understand there’s been a plane crash on the island and they are looking for the people,” she said. “I think it’s my family.”

The National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the crash, said on Tuesday evening they have not located the wreckage from the floatplane and do not have enough wreckage to investigate the cause.

“We feel confident that the wreckage will be located, but at this point that effort is still underway,” said Tom Chapman, one of four NTSB members.

Investigations into such crashes often take 18 to 24 months, he said.

NTSB has been working with the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission to locate the plane with sonar and divers. It is unclear whether the wreckage is in one area or if smaller pieces have been dispersed.

Chapman called for witnesses with information or media relevant to the investigation to contact the NTSB at witness@ntsb.gov.

Talk to us

More in Northwest

News logo for use with stories about coronavirus COVID-19 COVID
COVID, monkeypox levels down

State says prevention efforts will continue.

News logo for use with stories about coronavirus COVID-19 COVID
State employees likely to get 1K bonuses for COVID booster

Under a tentative deal state employees would get $1,000 bonuses for receiving a COVID-19 booster shot.

FILE - Then-Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz addresses a news conference in Seattle, on Sept. 2, 2020. Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell has named Diaz as his pick for permanent chief of the Seattle department. Harrell on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022,  announced his intent to appoint Diaz, who has served as interim police chief since 2020. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Seattle mayor appoints Adrian Diaz as city’s police chief

Diaz has served as interim police chief since September 2020.

NO CAPTION. Logo to accompany news of Washington state.
Human remains wash ashore, possibly from floatplane crash

A female torso found near Sequim could be connected to a floatplane crash near Whidbey Island.

NO CAPTION. Logo to accompany news of Seattle.
Seattle teachers approve new contract following strike

Teachers in Seattle have approved a new, three-year contract following a strike.

X
West Seattle Bridge reopened Saturday night

After 908 days without a high-rise bridge, the drivers and passengers of West Seattle regained seven road lanes.

NO CAPTION. Logo to accompany news of Washington state.
Monkeypox cases declining in WA, outbreak trajectory unclear

The drop in infections statewide is directly linked to the drop in cases in King County.

Guillermo Carvajal, a member of the support staff at Northgate Elementary School in Seattle, and Erin Carroll, an occupational therapist there, picket outside the building on the third day of a strike by the Seattle Education Association on Friday, Sept. 9, 2022. The union and Seattle Public Schools continued negotiating over issued that include pay and support for special needs students. It remained unclear how long the strike might last. (AP Photo/Gene Johnson)
Tentative deal reached to end Seattle teachers strike

Seattle Public Schools said late Monday it had reached a tentative agreement with the union for teachers.

Logo for news use featuring Whidbey Island in Island County, Washington. 220118
Floatplane wreckage located in Mutiny Bay

Wreckage of a floatplane that crashed into Mutiny Bay last week has been located on the seafloor.

Logo for news use featuring Whidbey Island in Island County, Washington. 220118
Body of Whidbey Island plane crash victim identified

A body found near the site of a floatplane crash in Mutiny Bay has been identified as 29-year-old Gabby Hanna.

Logo for news use featuring Whidbey Island in Island County, Washington. 220118
Actress Megan Hilty says sister was on floatplane that crashed

The Broadway and TV star’s sister Lauren Hilty was among those killed in a floatplane crash off Whidbey Island.

Logo for news use, for stories regarding Washington state government — Olympia, the Legislature and state agencies. No caption necessary. 20220331
Washington Supreme Court OKs virtual life term for teen

This comes one year after the court ruled virtual life sentences were unconstitutional for teenage killers.