National Transportation Safety Board investigators on Saturday arrived at the cliff-side wreckage of Thursday's plane crash that killed nine people on a sightseeing tour of Misty Fjords National Monument in Southeast Alaska.
The agency's Alaska chief, Clint Johnson, said it would take a full year before the NTSB publishes a final report about the cause of the crash and months before initial indications are released. But he said investigators would be looking at the region's notoriously unpredictable weather, as well as examining the pilot's safety training to see if it met recommendations made by the agency after a similar crash in 2007 that killed five people.
A helicopter dropped off a pair of NTSB investigators at the crash site Saturday, about 25 miles northeast of Ketchikan. They began an initial survey of the wreckage of the 10-passenger de Havilland Otter, which was operated by Ketchikan-based Promech Air.
An NTSB structural engineer is expected to conduct his own review Sunday before the agency moves the wing-less wreckage back to Ketchikan for reconstruction and a more painstaking examination, Johnson said.
The review also includes a meteorologist and another investigator who will look at the flight's operation, including the training of the pilot and his professional history.
Johnson said it was too early to draw conclusions about the cause of the crash. But he acknowledged both the climate and geography of the region make for flying that's "not for the faint of heart," and would be scrutinized closely.
He cited the 2007 crash that also happened during a tour of Misty Fjords, which an NTSB report a year later blamed on pilot error and inadequate supervision of the Southeast Alaska tour industry by the Federal Aviation Administration. Subsequent recommendations by the NTSB included the installation of webcams in the area and special weather training for tour pilots.
The FAA says it carried out the recommendations and a spokeswoman for Promech said in a brief phone interview late Saturday the Otter's 64-year-old pilot, Bryan Krill, had received the weather training.
'He just loved flying'
Meanwhile, details about Krill and the eight other people on the flight began emerging after authorities identified them late Friday. The victims were all passengers on a Holland America Line cruise ship that had been docked in Ketchikan.
They included a 31-year-old Maryland social worker, Glenda Cambiaso, and her father, Hugo Cambiaso, the Washington Post reported.
There was a couple from Lodi in California's Central Valley: 71-year-old Rowland Cheney, an artist who planned to propose to 59-year-old Mary Doucette during the trip, the Associated Press reported.
A Nevada couple killed in the crash, 63-year-old Margie Apodaca and 70-year-old Raymond Apodaca, had both retired from jobs with the federal government in the last two years. A neighbor told the Associated Press the couple planned to travel across the country and had recently bought a motor home.
June Kranenburg, 73, of Medford, Oregon, worked as a dance instructor for five decades after lying about her age so she could start teaching while still in school, her local newspaper, the Mail Tribune, reported. She specialized in "spicy Latin" and nightclub dancing, according to the website of a Medford ballroom.
Kranenburg and her husband, Leonard Kranenburg, 63, were both killed.
Two brothers of Krill, the pilot, described him as a successful businessman who chose flying as a second career and relished the job.
"He didn't need the income — he just loved flying. He was living his dream," Dave Krill, 69, said in a phone interview from California. He added: "Bryan was the kind of guy that — he would have done anything he could to not have happen what happened to those people."
Dave Krill said his brother had only become a commercial pilot recently, but had flown recreationally since the 1970s. For the last couple of years, he flew in Alaska in the summers and spent winters in Arizona, where he'd owned a franchise of Mexican fast-food restaurants.
Bryan Krill also kept a home in Idaho, Dave Krill said.
A full picture of Bryan Krill's commercial flying history remained unclear Saturday. An FAA database showed he was issued a commercial pilot certificate in 2013, and the operations director of Talkeetna Air Taxi, Paul Roderick, confirmed late Friday that Krill had flown for the company in 2014.
Krill's first professional piloting job in Alaska was for Bettles Air Service, where he flew for three years in the Brooks Range, primarily ferrying backcountry travelers in the summers, Tyler Klaes, the company's owner, confirmed Saturday.
Promech said in a prepared statement early Saturday that Krill had 4,300 hours of flight experience, including 1,700 hours in a single-engine floatplane. But it didn't answer a question about where else he had flown.
An FAA spokesman, Ian Gregor, said in an email that the FAA couldn't provide information until Monday about other commercial or noncommercial pilot certifications that Krill may have held in the past.
An Eagle River woman who took an Alaska Range flight tour with Krill last summer, Meg Cordry, 43, described him as quiet, funny and thoughtful — "just a really great guy," she said in a phone interview.
She recalled that Krill aborted a pass over the base camp used by climbers near Mount McKinley when the plane ran into wind and the ride got bumpy.
"He was very quick — 'No, this isn't even worth it' — and took us back out into the calmer air," Cordry said. "I appreciated his being careful."
2007 Misty Fjords crash
Weather in Ketchikan the day of the crash was unsettled, with scattered showers and wind gusts hitting 26 mph.
In a 2011 regulatory filing with the federal government, Promech said the Ketchikan-Misty Fjords area where it flies tours was "commonly known for its stunningly beautiful geographic features."
"Equally impressive are the flight challenges posed by such dramatic terrain and volatile weather conditions," the filing said.
In the 2007 crash, Ketchikan's Taquan Air Service had sent three planes on Misty Fjords flight tours.
All three planes were flying through a shallow mountain pass known as "the cut." The first plane made it through and the third plane's pilot turned around and took a different route after running into what he described as a "wall of weather" — rain, fog and low clouds — according to news reports.
The second plane, a de Havilland Beaver, crashed in a box canyon and slid 250 feet down an embankment. All five people aboard were killed.
The pilot, 56-year-old Joseph Campbell, had 25 years of commercial aviation experience, but only seven hours of flying experience in Alaska when he was hired by Taquan to fly that summer.
A year later, the NTSB, citing that crash and four other Southeast air tour accidents in the previous decade, released four recommendations to the FAA aimed at fixing what it described as a lack of weather information, inadequate pilot training and "ineffective FAA oversight" of tour operators' compliance with weather rules.
Two of the recommendations concerned the special weather training. The FAA said in a reply to the NTSB in 2012 that all Southeast tour operators had made the training part of their programs for pilots.
The FAA also said it complied with another recommendation to ensure it was doing monthly safety observations of Southeast tour operators' flights. And it installed 10 weather cameras in the area, including in Misty Fjords, to satisfy a fourth NTSB recommendation.
Those webcams help pilots judge the weather along their routes, Rob Murray, a former Promech pilot, said in a phone interview Friday. But he added there's still a big area of Misty Fjords "where you've got to just fly it to see what the weather's doing."
"You don't know until you get there, and that's the case in that area," he said.