ANCHORAGE — Six people are dead after two sightseeing floatplanes collided midair on Monday near Ketchikan, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
Four people were found dead Monday, and dive teams searched an area the size of 24 football fields before finding two missing passengers dead Tuesday.
Ten people were taken to hospitals, including four who were then flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle on Monday night with broken bones, Harborview spokeswoman Susan Gregg said.
A 67-year-old man is in serious condition, but improving, in intensive care, while the three other Harborview patients — a 63-year-old woman, a 61-year-old woman and a 61-year-old man — are in satisfactory condition, Gregg said Tuesday afternoon. The Anchorage Daily News said the two 61-year-olds are a married couple. Hometowns were not given for any of the patients.
The remaining five patients at PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center were in fair condition Tuesday morning, the Anchorage Daily News reported, citing hospital officials. One additional person already had been discharged after being treated for minor injuries.
The planes were carrying tourists from a cruise ship that had departed Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday, making several stops en route to Anchorage.
A Washington, D.C.-based investigative team from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) arrived in Ketchikan Tuesday afternoon to investigate what caused the collision. Agency spokesman Peter Knudson said board member Jennifer Homendy also is traveling with the “Go Team,” which investigates major accidents.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is also investigating. The floatplanes collided under unknown circumstances, FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer said in an email.
Floatplanes have pontoons mounted under the fuselage so they can land on water.
The passengers from the cruise ship Royal Princess were on sightseeing flights, one operated by Ketchikan-based Taquan Air.
Ten passengers and a pilot, who were all American, were in Taquan’s single-engine de Havilland Otter DHC-3 when it went down during its return from a trip to Misty Fjords National Monument, which is part of the Tongass National Forest, the nation’s largest. One passenger on that flight died, according to the Coast Guard.
The five other people who died were aboard the second plane, a single-engine de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver, according to Coast Guard Lt. Brian Dykens. Three Americans, one Australian and one Canadian were on that plane, according to the Coast Guard. The Australian and the Canadian were believed to be the two missing persons found Tuesday night.
Alaska State Troopers will identify those who died.
Local emergency responders worked with state and federal agencies and private vessels to help rescue and recover victims.
“It’s been a long day and the crews have been working really hard to rescue people and recover the deceased,” Deanna Thomas, a spokeswoman for the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, the local government, said Monday evening.
Taquan Air said the company suspended operations while the crash is investigated.
“We are devastated by today’s incident and our hearts go out to our passengers and their families,” Taquan said in a statement.
The Royal Princess was scheduled to continue on to Juneau on Tuesday and to conclude its voyage in Anchorage on Saturday.
“All of us at Princess Cruises are deeply saddened by this tragic news and we are extending our full support to the investigating authorities as well as the traveling companions of the guests involved,” the cruise ship company said in a statement.
Weather conditions in the area where the crash happened Monday included high overcast skies with 9 mph southeast winds.
The collision came nearly three years after a pilot and eight passengers died when a de Havilland DHC-3 Otter crashed in mountainous terrain near Ketchikan. The passengers in that crash had been traveling on a Holland America Line cruise ship that departed from Seattle; none of them were from Washington state.
The NTSB later determined that pilot error and lack of a formal safety program were among the causes of the June 2015 crash.