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[Updated] Nine Cruise Passengers Die in Alaska Plane Crash

Alaska

By Reuters 2015-06-26 17:47:57

Emergency crews were trying on Friday to reach the wreckage of a sightseeing plane on the side of a steep rock face in Alaska and recover the bodies of nine people killed in the crash, a rescue official said.

Eight passengers and the pilot were killed when the plane, an excursion flight from a cruise ship, went down during a tour of the Misty Fjords area of southeast Alaska on Thursday afternoon, flight operator Promech Air said.

A helicopter pilot spotted the wreckage against a granite rock face about 800 feet (240 meters) above Ella Lake, according to an Alaska State Trooper report.

The remote location of the crash site, low visibility due to clouds and fog and the precarious position of the plane on the side of the steep rock face delayed the recovery effort, said Jerry Kiffer, president of the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad.

"We consider the aircraft unstable," he said, and rescuers will have to be "extremely careful because of the steepness and the slick conditions."

The plane must first be secured, Kiffer said, adding a recovery team was on its way to the site and he hoped the victims would be removed from the aircraft and transported to a Coast Guard cutter by mid-afternoon.

Cruise operator Holland America Line said the DeHavilland DHC-3 Otter float plane crashed near Ella Lake, about 20 miles (30 km) northeast of Ketchikan, a popular summertime cruise destination 230 miles (370 km) south of state capital Juneau.

Federal investigators are looking into what caused the crash. Two National Transportation Safety Board officials from the agency's Alaska Regional office have arrived in Ketchikan to investigate, and more are on the way, the agency said.

Conditions at the Ketchikan International Airport were overcast and rainy around the time of the crash, the National Weather Service said.

Promech's sightseeing flights around the Misty Fjords National Monument offer views of "towering granite cliffs, 1,000-foot waterfalls, lush and remote valleys and serene crystalline lakes," the company says on its website.

"There is nothing I can say that can alleviate the pain and overwhelming sense of loss," said Marcus Sessoms, president of Promech Air.

The excursion flight was sold through Holland America Line, a unit of Carnival Corp.

The eight passengers had been on the cruise ship Westerdam, which left Seattle on Saturday for a seven-day round trip, the cruise line said in a statement.

Promech's sightseeing flights around the Misty Fjords National Monument offer views of "towering granite cliffs, 1,000-foot waterfalls, lush and remote valleys and serene crystalline lakes," the company says on its website.

In July 2013, four people on board a similar float plane owned by Promech were injured after the craft suffered engine failure and crashed into trees on nearby Prince of Wales Island, the Alaska Dispatch News reported.