A 66-year-old cruise ship passenger from New Mexico was killed in Tuesday afternoon’s float plane crash on a mountainside near Petersburg.
The Alaska State Troopers have identified the man killed in the crash as Thomas L. Rising of Santa Fe. Rescuers Tuesday night were unable to recover his body due to darkness and weather conditions. Five other cruise ship passengers and the pilot from Petersburg survived the crash and were rescued from the site Tuesday evening.
“The plane was a sightseeing tour and the people onboard, the six passengers, were all from the cruise ship Sea Bird,” said Megan Peters, a spokesperson for the troopers. “The wreckage had been found at about the 1000-foot level of Thunder Mountain and when it was located there was six people found alive and unfortunately one person that was found deceased. All the survivors were all transported back to Petersburg so they could be looked over and treated for whatever injuries that they acquired in the wreckage.”
The crashed plane is a deHavilland Beaver, a fixed-wing, single-engine aircraft owned by Pacific Wings of Petersburg with capacity for one pilot and six passengers. It was reported overdue around 4 o’clock Tuesday afternoon prompting a search by three commercial helicopters and a Coast Guard helicopter from Air Station Sitka. The Coast Guard reported locating the crash site around 6:50 p.m. Tuesday.
“The plane which had seven passengers onboard, we were able to locate them when the Coast Guard MH60 Jayhawk helicopter crew spotted one of the survivors,” said Coast Guard spokesperson Grant DeVuyst. “We were able to hoist all six of the surviving passengers. Unfortunately one of the passengers was deceased. Of course our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the deceased passenger. Thankfully we were able to get the other six back to Petersburg, back to medical attention.”
The Coast Guard reported finding the crash site around 6:50 Tuesday evening and the survivors were returned to Petersburg by 8:20 p.m. DeVuyst credited a working emergency locator transmitter in helping rescuers find the downed aircraft. The plane crashed near Thunder Mountain, in the vicinity of Jap Creek, just north of LeConte Bay and LeConte Glacier, a scenic fjord over 11 miles east of Petersburg.
Troopers say the injuries to the other passengers were serious but not life threatening. The Coast Guard Tuesday reported one passenger had a broken leg and one had a broken back. Two patients were medevaced to Seattle for additional treatment.
The National Transportation Safety Board sent an investigator, Bryce Banning, to Petersburg Wednesday and expected Banning would be able to get to the crash site Wednesday afternoon.
“I understand its in very steep terrain, 30-40 degrees it’s very unstable, so that’s one of the reasons why the Juneau Mountain Rescue group was brought in to be able to stabilize it,” said Clint Johnson is regional director for the Alaska office of the NTSB. “Also assist in the body recovery and help out both the troopers and the NTSB investigator in charge on scene.”
Johnson thought on-scene work could be completed by Wednesday evening. “Bryce’s main objective while he’s in Petersburg there at the site is to be able to document the wreckage at the site and then we’ll work on getting the wreckage out of there and hopefully be able to take a closer look once we get it back to Petersburg or wherever the wreckage ultimately ends up,” he said.
The NTSB hopes to have preliminary information compiled on the accident in five days. The Coast Guard and state troopers also hoped to recover Rising’s body from the plane Wednesday.
Pacific Wings is owned by Sunrise Aviation of Wrangell and offers flightseeing and air-taxi services around central Southeast. The Sea Bird is a 62-passenger cruise ship operated by National Geographic Expeditions and offers tours of the Inside Passage.
(updated 4 p.m. June 5, 2013)