An airline whose planes were involved in two deadly crashes in one week in a remote part of Alaska has voluntarily suspended operations, the Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday.
The airline, Taquan Air, which sells sightseeing tours to cruise ship passengers and also carries passengers and cargo across rural Alaska, suspended operations after a crash Monday that killed two people, officials said. Six others were killed in a mid-air collision involving one of its planes last week.
The most recent crash occurred when a small float plane, a de Havilland Beaver, flipped over upon landing on Metlakatla Harbor, south of Ketchikan, in southeast Alaska, the FAA said. Taquan Air did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
The crash happened shortly before 4 p.m. Monday, just hours after investigators looking into last week’s crash left the area, Clint Johnson, the chief of the National Transportation Safety Board’s regional office in Alaska, said at a news conference Tuesday.
Several people witnessed the crash and some took pictures of it, Johnson said. He said the witnesses were “very shaken up,” and some had told the authorities what they saw.
“Some time during the touchdown the right float dug in, the airplane cartwheeled a number of times, the right wing was severed and the plane came to rest inverted, upside down,” he said. “The cockpit and passenger area were submerged.”
Both people on the plane were killed. The Metlakatla Police Department identified them Tuesday night as the pilot, Ron Rash, 51, from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and the passenger, Sarah Luna, 31, of Anchorage.
Deanna Thomas, a spokeswoman for the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, said the authorities would not disclose whether they were recovered alive. But in a statement Monday, the local government said that both were brought to the Annette Island Service Unit in Metlakatla after the crash.
Luna worked as a liver disease and hepatitis specialist for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, which said in a statement that she had been flying to Metlakatla to visit patients at that same medical centre.
“She was an up and coming research professional, who embodied the characteristics most valuable to our team and was truly committed to improving the health and well-being of Alaska Native people,” Andy Teuber, the chairman and president of the health consortium, said in the statement.
Johnson told reporters Tuesday that weather conditions in the area had been good at the time of Monday’s crash, with winds of 10 mph, visibility in excess of 10 miles and “a light chop on the water.”
He said it was “way too early to speculate” about the cause of the crash. Investigators will spend several days in the area, and would not assume a connection between last week’s crash and the most recent one, he said.
“I have to stress that each one of these are separate events, they are being investigated separately, we have two separate investigators in charge that are looking at different things,” he said. “The accidents are different in nature, but obviously Taquan is the common denominator here.”
Karl S. Cook, the mayor of the Metlakatla Indian Community, expressed his support for Taquan Air in a statement Tuesday.
“The losses this organization has faced in the past week have been devastating,” he wrote. “We stand with Taquan Air, in appreciation of all this company does for South East Alaska in general, and Metlakatla in particular.”
Last week’s crash killed six people – one pilot and five cruise ship passengers – when a Taquan Air plane collided in mid-air with a smaller plane. Ten others were injured.
The passengers on both planes had been on a Royal Princess cruise ship for a seven-day journey billed as a “Voyage of the Glaciers,” the cruise line said.
NTSB investigators said last week that the Taquan plane, a DHC-3T Turbine Otter, descended by several hundred feet and collided with the smaller plane, which had been flying at a more stable altitude.
The other plane, a DHC-2 Beaver owned by Mountain Air Service, was carrying four passengers and one pilot, the NTSB said.
After the crash last week, Taquan Air said in a statement on Facebook that it was “devastated over the loss of all those involved.”
“Ketchikan and Alaska’s aviation community are a family and we feel this loss together,” the statement said.
“Taquan has resumed flightseeing tours, scheduled and chartered flights so that Alaskans living in our rural regions have the service they depend on,” it added.
The airline did not post a statement to social media after this week’s crash. On Tuesday, its Instagram and Twitter accounts appeared to be deactivated.