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NTSB: Pilot in floatplane crash near Homer described ‘swell activity’ in bay during takeoff

  • Author: Zaz Hollander
  • Updated: July 23, 2019
  • Published July 23, 2019

The pilot of a floatplane that crashed near Homer last week, killing a Maryland executive, told a federal investigator there were swells at the mouth of the bay where he took off.

The crash Friday morning occurred as the plane operated by Rust’s Flying Service left Tutka Bay Lodge with pilot Engjell Berisha and six passengers: Joe Patanella, 57, who died in the crash; Patanella’s wife and three children; and a male relative.

Two of the children and their mother were flown to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage; one child was in critical condition. An update on conditions wasn’t available Tuesday. A third child was treated and released at South Peninsula Hospital. The relative was hospitalized there in stable condition the day of the crash.

National Transportation Safety Board investigator Brice Banning interviewed the pilot and witnesses, NTSB Alaska chief Clint Johnson said Tuesday. A preliminary report on the crash is due out soon.

Pilot Berisha indicated “there was some swell activity in the takeoff area,” Johnson said. Banning also interviewed crash survivors in the hospital and is gathering witness statements as to the severity of the swells, and how high they were before the crash.

The de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver ended up upside down, Johnson said. Its right wing tore off and sank at some point before the aircraft was recovered by barge. The floats were partly detached, and Banning will look into whether that happened before or after the crash.

Berisha has flown in Alaska since 2015, working for air services in Western Alaska and Katmai National Park and Preserve before starting work with Rust’s two years ago, according to his LinkedIn page, which also identifies him as a first officer for Portland, Oregon-based Horizon Air. He obtained a flight instructor certification in May and holds airline transport pilot and commercial ratings, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The family was staying at the lodge. The plane was destined for Anchorage.

Patanella was the CEO of Trusted Knight, an Annapolis cybersecurity firm, and a former National Security Agency technologist, according to the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland.

Rust’s suspended all operations, including those of sister company Talkeetna-based K2 Aviation, on Friday. The company resumed full operations, including service to Tutka Bay, as of Monday.

“Our priority continues to be supporting the family, our pilot and staff during this difficult time,” Rust’s said in a statement provided by public relations firm Thompson & Co. “We are grateful to the first responders and other responding entities for their tremendous support and rescue efforts."

The company is working closely with NTSB in the investigation, the statement says.

Tutka Bay Lodge also provided a statement through the firm: “These have been difficult days at Tutka Bay Lodge, but we have had guests with us the whole time, including one party who flew between Winterlake and Tutka Bay yesterday with Rust’s Flying Service. They all have chosen to continue on with all of their activities, and we’ve made them aware of the opportunity for alternate itineraries, including boating to and from Tutka Bay Lodge.”