Recent Developments

Speiser Krause in the News and Recent Developments

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Mid-Air Collision of Sightseeing Float Planes in Ketchikan, Alaska

On May 13, 2019, two de Havilland sightseeing float planes collided in mid-air near Ketchikan, Alaska as they were touring Alaska’s Misty Fjords National Monument which is part of Tongass National Forest.  Six people died as a result of the collision and 10 people have been admitted to hospitals with significant injuries.  The float planes were carrying passengers from the cruise ship Royal Princess operated by Princess Cruises.  The larger of the two aircraft, a de Havilland DHC-3, Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) Registration Number N959PA, commonly referred to as a de Havilland Otter, was carrying 10 passengers and a pilot.  The aircraft was operated by Venture Travel LLC doing business as Taquan Air, a sightseeing air tour operator that operates in an around Ketchikan, and owned by Pantechnicon Aviation, Ltd., a Nevada based entity.  The Taquan Air flight was a sightseeing excursion offered through Princess Cruises. 

The smaller aircraft, a de Havilland DHC-2 MK1, FAA Registration Number N952DB, referred to as a de Havilland Beaver, was carrying 4 passengers and a pilot. It is owned by Mountain Air Service LLC, a limited liability company based in Ketchikan.  Although the passengers on the smaller aircraft were also cruise ship passengers, this sightseeing flight was arranged independently and not through the cruise line. 

Both aircraft were operating in uncontrolled airspace, and as such were required to announce their respective positions on a common traffic advisory frequency.  This enables pilots who are operating in the uncontrolled airspace to have an understanding of where other aircraft are located.  In addition, each pilot has an obligation to “see and avoid” other aircraft under the applicable Federal Aviation Regulations.  Early reports indicate that the Otter aircraft was at an altitude of approximately 3,800 feet when it descended and collided with the Beaver aircraft that was flying at approximately 3,300 feet.  Weather was reported to be high overcast conditions with southeast winds at approximately 9 mph.  Neither aircraft was equipped with a cockpit voice recorder or digital flight data recorder.

The National Transportation Safety Board has dispatched a “Go-Team” to the accident site to investigate the cause of the collision.  It is expected that a Preliminary Report will be released within the next two weeks.  This will be one of three reports that the NTSB issues, the second being the Factual Report, and the last being the Final or Probable Cause Report.  It is expected that the additional reports will not be released for well over a year.

This is not the first incident involving a Taquan Air aircraft.  In 2007, a Taquan Air de Havilland Beaver impacted mountainous terrain in the Ketchikan area, killing four passengers and the pilot.  The NTSB attributed the cause of the crash to poor pilot judgment and inadequate supervision over the float plane industry.  In 2015, a Promech Air flight also touring the Misty Fjords National Monument crashed in poor weather conditions as the flight was attempting to return passengers to a cruise ship in time for its departure.  The NTSB attributed the cause of the crash to pilot disorientation in poor weather and it found that the pilot was under pressure from his employer to ensure that the passengers returned to their cruise ship before departure.  Other tour operators cancelled flights due to the poor weather.  Taquan Air purchased Promech Air after the crash in 2016.

The partners at Speiser Krause have extensive experience in representing individuals killed in mid-air collisions, including the mid-air collision over the Hudson River in 2009.  As more information becomes available regarding this tragic incident, we will provide further updates.

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