Alaska law enforcement and the U.S. Coast Guard are investigating a potentially dangerous interaction between a vessel and a floatplane this week in Halibut Cove, a small community across Kachemak Bay from Homer.
A video that began circulating online this week shows a boat making extremely close passes in front of a floatplane. The pilot of the aircraft confirmed the Tuesday incident and described it as a “dangerous maneuver.” Neither he nor his seven passengers were injured.
Alaska State Troopers spokesman Austin McDaniel said Thursday that the agency was aware of the video and had also received a report about the incident. Troopers were reviewing the video, McDaniel said, and he added that no citations had been issued nor arrests made at that point.
Contacted again on Friday, McDaniel said the investigation was “active and ongoing.”
Eric Lee, owner of Alaska Ultimate Safaris out of Homer, was piloting the floatplane that day, taking a group of people on a sightseeing tour to Katmai National Park and Preserve. Lee said he had a total of seven passengers, two of which he was picking up from the Stillpoint Lodge in Halibut Cove on Tuesday morning.
Lee had flown into the west entrance of Halibut Cove, picked up the passengers and started taxiing back out of the cove and into Kachemak Bay. One boat had already passed him, and Lee said he saw another boat, an aluminum vessel, coming “straight at” him.
Lee said his first thought was that the boat was trying to get around him, just like the first one. But it kept coming toward the floatplane, he said.
“I was confused at first,” he said, thinking maybe the boat operator was trying to alert him to something wrong with the aircraft.
The woman operating the boat, who Lee said he did not know, began making close passes in front of the plane, getting within feet of the aircraft.
“She kept doing it closer and closer,” he said.
Lee said that if the boat had struck the floatplane, it could have caused damage, and that he was thinking about the possibility of evacuating his passengers. He had them don flotation devices just in case.
Eventually, Lee said another small boat approached them in the water and spoke to the operator of the vessel making close passes in front of him. After that, she stopped and Lee said he was able to maneuver around the boat, take off and continue on to Katmai.
In a statement posted online Thursday, the U.S. Coast Guard said it got multiple reports of “a vessel interfering with the navigation of a floatplane.” The Coast Guard is investigating the incident, the statement said.
A message left with a Coast Guard spokesperson was not returned by Friday evening.
Lee said he didn’t personally make a report to law enforcement, but he has since been contacted by troopers, the Coast Guard and the Federal Aviation Administration.
“I just don’t know what to think of it, other than it could have been a very bad situation very quickly,” he said.
Lee said nothing like the encounter has happened to him before.
“Nothing so obvious has ever happened, nothing like that,” he said. “It’s definitely strange at first.”
The interaction between the floatplane and boat occurred in the community of Halibut Cove, outside the jurisdiction of Kachemak Bay State Park, a park ranger said. The park has jurisdiction over Halibut Cove Lagoon.
The Coast Guard is asking anyone with information about the incident to contact its Anchorage sector command center at 907-428-4100 or submit an online tip.