The sightseeing plane that crashed near Ketchikan, Alaska, killing six people, hit a tree while flying in weather other pilots described as overcast with low clouds, according to a report released Wednesday by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The Southeast Aviation de Havilland DC-2 Beaver departed around 10:30 a.m. Aug. 5 from Misty Fjords National Monument wilderness area and was headed back to Ketchikan when it crashed in steep terrain forested with large Sitka spruce about 18 miles northwest of the city.
Other pilots flying passengers the morning of the accident told investigators there were low clouds in the valley where the accident occurred, according to the first National Transportation Safety Board report on the crash, written by lead investigator Heidi Kamner.
Pilots helping with search-and-rescue efforts described overcast weather that obscured mountaintops, with clouds as low as 600 to 800 feet above ground level in some valleys, including the one where the plane crashed.
The Beaver crashed at about 1,750 feet altitude, according to the report.
The five passengers killed in the crash came off the Holland America Line cruise ship Nieuw Amsterdam, which left Seattle on a weeklong excursion to Alaska. They booked the floatplane trip through Southeast Aviation.
It was pilot Rolf Lanzendorfer’s second flight of the day, according to the report. An airplane fueler watched Lanzendorfer do preflight checks earlier in the day. The plane left Ketchikan around 9:40 a.m., flew through Misty Fjords and landed on Big Goat Lake around 10:20. It took off from the lake not quite 10 minutes later, en route back to Ketchikan Harbor.
The plane’s last tracking signal came at 10:48 a.m., the report states. The U.S. Coast Guard picked up its emergency signal about two minutes later. Air searchers located the wreckage at about 11:20 a.m. A few hours later, a Coast Guard helicopter crew lowered to the scene confirmed no one survived.
Misty Fjords, part of the Tongass National Forest, is a popular destination for sightseeing flights. A short trip from Ketchikan, the area features snowcapped peaks and blue glacial lakes in a carpet of green forest.
The plane first hit a tree, and crashed about 435 feet away, Kamner wrote. A section of the left wing was found at the base of the tree. Another section was found in a tree along the debris path.
Bad weather and low cloud ceilings obscured the wreckage from searchers for several hours. Poor weather and visibility also delayed recovery efforts for several days.
Killed were 64-year-old pilot Rolf Lanzendorfer of Cle Elum, and five passengers: Mark Henderson, 69, and Jacquelyn Komplin, 60, both of Napa, California; Andrea McArthur, 55, and Rachel McArthur, 20, both of Woodstock, Georgia; and Janet Kroll, 77, of Mount Prospect, Illinois.
Lanzendorfer was a commercial floatplane pilot for more than 40 years, largely in British Columbia, Alaska and Washington state, according to a report in the Yakima Herald newspaper.
Andrea McArthur worked as a flight attendant for Delta for more than 30 years, relatives told several local media outlets. Her daughter, Rachel, was a college junior majoring in intelligence and security studies who had recently finished an internship with a local police department.
Kroll, who had retired from her job as a salesperson with a manufacturing company, was active in three local churches and loved to travel, her grandson told the Journal & Topics newspaper.
Henderson was retired from his job as a public defender, family told the Napa Valley Register. Komplin was a registered nurse and college instructor.
Henderson’s sister told the newspaper that before the crash, the pair sent messages “talking about how gorgeous it was” in Alaska. “They were having so much fun.”
The preliminary NTSB report released this week represents only a summary of the initial facts investigators have been able to learn. It marks just the first step in a lengthy investigation into what may have caused the crash, with a final report not expected until next year. Among the factors the board will examine are weather, mechanical issues, and flight operations in general.