Five Cruise Passengers Killed in Ketchikan Sightseeing Crash

File image courtesy Southeast Aviation

Published Aug 8, 2021 1:25 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Coast Guard's rescue assets in Ketchikan dealt with back-to-back floatplane crashes over the span of three days late last week - one fatal, one with a positive outcome.

On Thursday, the USCG joined a response effort with Alaska's State Troopers, the U. S. Forest Service and the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad (KVRS) to find a downed sightseeing aircraft at a position about eight miles northeast of Ketchikan. One pilot and five passengers were reportedly aboard the aircraft, a de Havilland Beaver owned by Southeast Aviation.

An EPIRB registered to the aircraft was activated near the Misty Fjords area at about 1120 hours, and a private helicopter reported wreckage on a ridgeline in the search area. 

An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Coast Guard Air Station Sitka located the wreckage on rugged terrain at 1437 hours. The crew lowered two rescue swimmers, who reported no survivors. The cutter Liberty and a response boat out of Station Ketchikan also responded to the scene. 

In a statement, Holland America Lines said that all five of the plane's passengers were from the cruise ship Nieuw Amsterdam, which was making a port call in Ketchikan. The flight was independently booked and not arranged through the cruise line. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the victims and with our guests and team members who are affected by this tragedy," Holland America said in a statement.

The cruise line had just restarted operations on the Seattle-to-Alaska route, and Niew Amsterdam was the first to reactivate, departing on her first trip on July 25. She was on her second post-restart voyage at the time of the casualty. 

The last sightseeing crash near Ketchikan was a mid-air collision in 2019, and it killed five passengers from the cruise ship Royal Princess. 

Second floatplane crash in three days

On Saturday, the Coast Guard rescued two people from a floatplane crash at a position about 40 miles southeast of Ketchikan.

An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Coast Guard Air Station Sitka rescued the two from aU.S. Forest Service Cabin in the Misty Fjords National Monument after their float plane crashed during takeoff. The helicopter crew lowered a rescue swimmer, who hoisted both survivors. They were were the only passengers aboard the privately-owned aircraft and no injuries were reported.

“This case highlights the importance of having safety equipment that is accessible and in working order,” said Lt. Maren Balke, search and rescue mission coordinator at the Sector Juneau command center. “The pilot was able to call for help using a satellite phone shortly after the crash, and they also activated a personal locator beacon, which allowed our air crew to quickly respond to their exact location.”