Victims in floatplane crash near Metlakatla identified

A Taquan Beaver is towed to shore after crashing into the water near Metlakatla, May 20, 2019. Both people on board were killed.
A Taquan Air floatplane is towed to shore after crashing into the water near Metlakatla, May 20, 2019. Both people on board were killed. (Photo courtesy Thomas R. Leask)

The investigation into Monday’s fatal floatplane crash near Metlakatla on Annette Island has begun, and both victims have been identified.

The passenger was 31-year-old Sarah Luna of Anchorage, an epidemiologist with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. The pilot was 51-year-old Ron Rash of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

According to a statement from ANTHC, Luna was traveling to Metlakatla to see patients.

The leadership and staff of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium extends our condolences to the family and loved…

Posted by Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium on Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Taquan Air flight crashed while landing in the waters of Metlakatla Harbor at about 4 p.m. Monday.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigator and two Federal Aviation Administration officials arrived on the scene Tuesday. The NTSB says witness statements indicate the de Havilland Beaver aircraft flipped on impact and quickly submerged.

“They said sometime during the touchdown, the right float dug in, the airplane cartwheeled a number of times,” said Clint Johnson, chief of the NTSB Alaska Regional Office. “The right wing was severed and the airplane came to rest inverted, upside down. Obviously, the cockpit and the passenger was submerged.”

Johnson said the two victims were recovered by Metlakatla responders and others. In addition, Taquan Air brought two Guardian Flight medics who assisted with resuscitation efforts. Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad, U.S. Coast Guard crews and good Samaritans also responded to the crash.

Johnson said that the wing that hit the water is still missing, but the rest of the plane has been recovered. He said a barge is set to bring the wreckage to Ketchikan to do a full investigation.

“If everything goes as planned, that wreckage will be back first thing in the morning so they can start documenting,” Johnson said. “Then they’ll start the witness interviews or the interviews at Taquan.”

Johnson said the NTSB has not identified a cause for the crash, though he said witnesses have reported that the weather was slightly windy — typical for Southeast Alaska. He said there were about 10 miles of visibility from Annette Island.

This accident comes one week after a fatal mid-air collision involving floatplanes operated by Taquan Air and Mountain Air Service, both of which were providing flightseeing tours. In that crash, six people died and 10 survived. Johnson said the last of the NTSB crews investigating that crash had left Monday morning, about five hours before Monday’s crash near Metlakatla.

In a statement Tuesday, Taquan said that it was suspending all flights until further notice.

Alaska Public Media’s Wesley Early contributed to this report.

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