ANCHORAGE — The midair collision of two sightseeing planes carrying cruise-ship passengers in Alaska happened at about the 3,300-foot level before they crashed into the water, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced after a team arrived from Washington, D.C., to investigate the crash.
The the Coast Guard raised the death toll to six people Tuesday after finding the bodies of two people who had been missing. Five of the dead were passengers and the sixth was the pilot of one of the planes.
Federal investigators said the larger plane, a de Havilland Otter DHC-3 with 10 passengers and its pilot, had descended from 3,800 feet and collided with a smaller de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver that was carrying four passengers from the same cruise ship, the Royal Princess, and a pilot.
The federal investigation into the cause of the crash could take months, but a preliminary report is expected in two weeks, said Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the NTSB.
Coast Guard Lt. Brian Dykens said Tuesday evening that his agency and the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad found the bodies of the two who were missing near the crash site of the smaller plane.
The planes came down about a mile and a half apart, with some of the debris falling on land near George Inlet, about 8 miles from the cruise ship port of Ketchikan.
The smaller plane, appeared to have broken apart in midair, according to Jerry Kiffer, duty incident commander of the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad. He said the plane’s tail and a section of the fuselage were 900 feet from the aircraft’s floats, which landed near shore.
The smaller plane was partially submerged in the shore of George Inlet after the single-engine plane overturned and hit some trees before crashing, according to Coast Guard Lt. Brian Dykens. The larger Otter landed in water and sank, he said.
Alaska State Troopers in a statement late Tuesday identified the passengers who died as 46-year-old Louis Botha, of San Diego; 56-year-old Simon Bodie, from Temple, New South Wales, Australia; 62-year-old Cassandra Webb, from St. Louis; 39-year-old Ryan Wilk, from Utah; and 37-year-old Elsa Wilk, of Richmond, British Columbia, Canada. Also killed was the pilot of one of the planes, 46-year-old Randy Sullivan, of Ketchikan, Alaska.
The larger plane was operated by Taquan Air, of Ketchikan, and passengers booked the flights through the cruise ship as an excursion. The other plane was operated by Mountain Air Service, of Ketchikan, and passengers booked the flight independent of the cruise ship, Princess Cruises said.
After the crash, the 10 injured people were initially taken to a hospital in Ketchikan. Four patients with broken bones were later transferred to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, spokeswoman Susan Gregg said.
Three survivors were released from PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center, in Ketchikan, on Tuesday. Hospital spokeswoman Marty West says the remaining three are in fair condition.
The Royal Princess left Vancouver, British Columbia, on May 11 and was scheduled to arrive in Anchorage on Saturday.