Personal items to be returned to families of Whidbey Island seaplane crash victims

The National Transportation Safety Board declined to say what personal items were found.

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By Greg Kim / The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — A seat cushion, a seat belt, foam fragments of the plane, personal items of the 10 people who had been on board. These were among the items recovered from the floatplane that dived into Mutiny Bay near Whidbey Island on Sunday afternoon.

The National Transportation Safety Board, the lead agency in the recovery efforts, said Wednesday the personal items would be returned to family members, but declined to say what they were.

As of Wednesday, the plane itself and nine of the 10 people who had been on board have not yet been recovered. All are presumed dead.

The few remnants from the plane that have been found were retrieved primarily by the public. Some witnesses who watched the plane hit the water went out on boats Sunday and collected debris in nets. Others have been finding items on shore since then.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is one of the main agencies that have been out on Mutiny Bay this week, using sonar and divers to search for plane wreckage. They were joined at times by the U.S. Coast Guard, Tulalip Tribal Police Department and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Taylor Kimball, a Department of Fish and Wildlife officer and dive team lead, said the only item sonar detected so far turned out to be a large rock. The sonar equipment that has been available is limited in the area it can scan. Kimball said his teams have tried to target areas where the plane is most likely to be.

“Based off of eyewitness reports saying where they thought the plane hit. And it was based on radar, where the plane was last seen. It was also based on where debris was in the water. It was also based on what the tide was doing that time of day,” Kimball said.

Now, NTSB is shifting its approach. It is turning to more advanced sonar equipment that can scan wider underwater areas, owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Official recovery efforts were paused Wednesday as NTSB coordinated the shift but will resume Thursday using a 34-foot aluminum survey vessel equipped with multibeam sonar and side scan sonar. The sonar will be used to search several square miles of the ocean floor.

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