Update, Saturday, 10:00 p.m.
Authorities were able to reach a steep and heavily treed area near Ketchikan Saturday afternoon to conduct recovery efforts where a flightseeing plane had crashed earlier this week, Alaska State Troopers said in an online release.
Troopers along with the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad made it to the site near Misty Fjords National Monument around 1:45 p.m. Saturday in a Temsco helicopter. The remains of those who were killed in the crash were recovered and will be sent to the State Medical Examiners Office, troopers said.
Those who died were Mark Henderson, 69 of Napa, California; Jacquelyn Komplin, 60, of Napa California; Andrea McArthur, 50, of Woodstock, Georgia; Rachel McArthur, 20, of Woodstock, Georgia; Janet Kroll, 77 of Mount Prospect, Illinois and pilot Rolf Lanzendorfer, 64 of Washington, authorities said.
Poor weather and steep terrain has kept recovery crews from accessing the site of a fatal flightseeing plane crash near Ketchikan on Thursday.
A pilot and five passengers were killed during the incident, near Misty Fjords National Monument northeast of Ketchikan.
The passengers had been travelers on a Holland America cruise ship docked in Ketchikan, the Nieuw Amsterdam. The Southeast Aviation de Havilland DC-2 Beaver left from Misty Fjords and was headed to Ketchikan when it crashed in steep, forested hard-to-reach terrain about 12 miles northeast of the city, authorities say.
Bad weather and low cloud ceilings obscured the wreckage from searchers for several hours after the plane’s emergency beacon began emitting a signal just after 11:20 a.m. Thursday. Weather in the area early Thursday afternoon was reported as clouds at 900 feet, light rain and low visibility.
A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter spotted the plane around 2:30 p.m. Two rescuers lowered to the site found no survivors.
The names of the victims had not been released as of Saturday.
The wreckage remained in the mountainous and steep area of Southeast on Saturday, complicating recovery efforts further, as poor weather conditions continued to slow the ability of crews to reach the site. Besides the U.S. Coast Guard’s initial flight to locate the wreckage, no crews had been back by Saturday, said state trooper spokesman Tim Despain.
Authorities were, however, able to fly over the site during an improved weather window in a Temsco helicopter which provided an aerial view of the site.
“They did find that the terrain is very, very steep, heavily treed and obviously weather is still an issue,” said National Transportation Safety Board Alaska chief Clint Johnson.
An NTSB team arrived Ketchikan on Friday, including Anchorage-based senior accident investigator Heidi Kemner and three other members from Texas and the East Coast.
Authorities on Saturday afternoon were in the process of putting together a plan for getting to the site in order to recover remains, Johnson said.
Weather will be one of the factors investigators examine, along with any mechanical failures or other problems with the pilot or plane, before determining what may have caused the crash. That finding won’t come until next year.
NTSB has conducted numerous fatal crash investigations in Southeast involving tour pilots flying into mountains in bad weather that obscures their vision without broadly available equipment to fly safely.
But it’s not yet clear what caused this particular plane to go down, according to the agency’s Alaska chief, Clint Johnson.
“It’s just way too early to start drawing conclusions about any similarities yet,” he said.
Eight people from a Ketchikan-docked cruise ship died in a 2015 crash. Everyone on board the Promech Air flight was killed: pilot Bryan Krill, 64, and eight passengers from the Holland America Line’s MS Westerdam on a shore excursion.
A preliminary NTSB report released shortly after the crash indicated the plane was returning from a flightseeing trip and flying in “marginal” weather conditions under visual flight rules when it crashed into a rock face near Ella Lake, about 20 miles northeast of Ketchikan.
Taquan Air bought Promech’s Alaska operations the next year.
In 2018, a Taquan flight carrying lodge guests near Hydaburg — about 75 miles west of Ketchikan — crashed into the side of Mount Jumbo, leaving 10 of 11 people aboard with injuries ranging from minor to severe. A NTSB report noted the Federal Aviation Administration allowed Taquan to keep an operations director who was at times too busy to oversee flight safety because another aviation job took him out of Ketchikan.