Editor’s note: This is a live account of updates from Tuesday, Sept. 6 as the day unfolded. It is no longer being updated.
Officials on Tuesday morning released the identities of all 10 people who were aboard a floatplane that crashed off Whidbey Island Sunday shortly after 3 p.m.
A woman’s body was recovered Sunday shortly after the crash by the first crews to respond, while the other passengers, including a child, remained unaccounted for. Around midday Monday, the U.S. Coast Guard suspended rescue efforts for the other nine missing people.
The plane, a de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Turbine Otter owned by the charter service Northwest Seaplanes and operated by Friday Harbor Seaplanes, was traveling from Friday Harbor to Renton.
Live updates about the crash continue below.
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Authorities haven't found enough wreckage to investigate cause, NTSB says
Tom Chapman, one of four National Transportation Safety Board members, told reporters Tuesday evening that while officials are reviewing maintenance records, weather conditions and other data points related to the crash, they hadn’t located enough wreckage to investigate the cause.
“We feel confident that the wreckage will be located, but at this point that effort is still underway,” Chapman said, more than 50 hours after the incident.
He said the crash was “an unusual situation under any circumstances” and that a lack of similar incidents make it hard to determine when the wreckage would be recovered.
Investigations into such crashes often take 12 to 18 months, Chapman said.
Pilot killed in crash loved aviation from a young age
Jason Winters, a longtime commercial pilot who had loved aviation since he helped wash and load seaplanes as a high schooler in Manson, Chelan County, died after a plane he was flying crashed near Whidbey Island Sunday.
Officials have not released details about the cause or circumstances of the crash and the National Transportation Safety Board is conducting an investigation.
The plane, owned and operated by a local charter service, was traveling from Friday Harbor to Renton when it crashed near Whidbey Island Sunday around 3 p.m. A woman’s body was recovered shortly after by the first crews to respond. Around midday Monday, the U.S. Coast Guard suspended rescue efforts for the other nine missing people.
Retired teacher among floatplane crash victims
Pat Hicks, a retired schoolteacher who blessed Spokane with her gentle nature, community spirit and dance moves, was among the 10 people who died in a plane crash Sunday off Whidbey Island.
Hicks, 66, was on her way back from a vacation in the San Juan Islands with her partner, Spokane civil rights activist Sandy Williams, when the floatplane went down.
“She was so excited about that trip,” her brother, Sam Hicks, said in an interview Tuesday from Los Angeles. “I never would have imagined something like this.”
San Juan Island was ‘special’ to Medina couple killed in crash
San Juan Island was considered a special place for Ross Mickel, 47, and Lauren Hilty, 39, who got married in Roche Harbor in October 2019.
The Medina couple and their 22-month old son, Remy, were among the 10 aboard a floatplane that crashed off Whidbey Island Sunday, as it was traveling from the San Juan Islands to Renton, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
Floatplane crash among Washington's deadliest in past 50 years
The floatplane crash off Whidbey Island is Washington's deadliest plane crash in nearly 15 years and among the worst in the past 50 years, according to a database that tracks aviation incidents.
Since 1972, there have been five Washington state plane incidents, including the crash in Mutiny Bay, where 10 or more people died, according to the Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives.
The most recent occurred in 2007 when a plane with 10 people crashed south of White Pass in Yakima County. Nine sky divers and the pilot were flying in a Cessna 208 Grand Caravan from a weekend skydiving event in Star, Idaho, to Shelton, Mason County. The National Transportation Safety Board determined the crash was likely caused by the pilot’s “failure to maintain an adequate airspeed to avoid an aerodynamic stall while maneuvering.”
In 1978, a Seattle-bound Columbia Pacific Airlines plane went down after it took off from the Richland airport, killing all 17 people aboard. The crash is Washington's deadliest in the past 50 years.
Video shows calm conditions as floatplane took off
Libby Frey and her husband flew to San Juan Island from Cincinnati over the weekend for a vacation near the water, she said Tuesday. The couple was going for a walk near the docks on a bright and sunny Sunday afternoon, after a morning of light showers, when she spotted a seaplane about to take off.
Frey had never been on a seaplane before, she said, so she picked up her phone to capture the plane gliding over the harbor. She didn’t think about it again until hours later, after a barrage of photos of other activities prompted her to delete the video to clear space on her phone.
After she heard about the deadly crash, she thought back to the video and recovered it. Its time stamp matched exactly the departure time of the floatplane that crashed into Mutiny Bay.
“It’s absolutely awful,” she said.
Despite recent tragedy, San Juan Island is a ‘healing place,' one local says
San Juan Island has quieted after the rush of Labor Day holiday traveling, community members say, leaving them with aching feelings as they try to understand the weekend tragedy.
Jennifer Yerkes, who manages a small seafood shop nestled under a ramp leading to the docks, said Tuesday that because the community is so close, word of the downed plane traveled fast.
She’s lived on the island for about 30 years and knows many locals frequently take floatplanes to Seattle for work or to see family. Flying is sometimes more convenient than catching a ferry, she said while boxing fresh seaweed.
“It’s an island,” Yerkes said. “We’re at the mercy of the way we have to travel.”
Now, she said she’d be hesitant to get on a floatplane.
“It’s unsettling,” she said. “People are kind of hunkering down and processing it.”
Still, Yerkes has faith in the way the Friday Harbor community comes together during times of tragedy.
“It’s an amazing, magical, healing place,” she said, adding that people are so friendly that many often hitchhike to work during the summer. “You never have to worry about being stranded on the side of the road."
Seattle attorney with zest for travel died in crash
Gabby Hanna, a 29-year-old attorney from Seattle with a zest for travel who cooked elaborate meals for her adoring family, was one of the 10 people who died in a floatplane crash Sunday off Whidbey Island.
A graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and the University of Washington School of Law, Hanna was an associate in the Seattle office of Cooley LLP, an international law firm.
“She was a fierce, fierce young woman, in the best of ways,” her father, Dave von Beck, said in an interview Tuesday, describing his daughter as funny, bright and an explorer.
“There are no words to describe the pain,” von Beck added. “Her family loved her very much.”
Couple from Minnesota identified as crash victims
Two of the victims identified Tuesday are Luke and Rebecca Ludwig, a couple from Minnesota.
“We have nothing to share at this time, other than we are coping with this tragedy with overwhelming support from family, friends, and a loving community,” family member Kyle Hosker wrote in a statement for the family.
Luke Ludwig served as director of engineering for HomeLight, a real estate technology company based in Arizona.
“Luke was a deeply devoted father, husband, outdoorsman, and coach for his kids’ sports teams, known for his remarkable kindness and generous spirit,” the company wrote in a statement. “We were privileged to know his warmth, intellect, and humor, and will miss him deeply.”
Quiet morning in Friday Harbor as community members process crash
The buzz of passing planes filled an otherwise quiet Tuesday morning in Friday Harbor, two days after a floatplane that took off from the port crashed near the coast of Whidbey Island.
One seaplane, operated by Kenmore Air, glided over the water around 9:30 a.m., on its way to Renton. Tomoko Shimotomai, who had heard about the downed plane over the weekend, nervously watched from the dock — her daughter was on board.
“I definitely have mixed feelings,” said Shimotomai, a California whale watching enthusiast who visits Friday Harbor every year to catch a glimpse of an orca pod. “We take seaplanes all the time. They’re so safe. I cannot possibly imagine how a seaplane could crash into the sea.”
She’s long been a part of the island’s tight-knit whale watching community, and said everyone she knew was devastated to hear about the crash.
“I don’t think a lot of people can even talk about it yet,” Shimotomai said. “It’s to the point where people are nauseous.”
Plane model has had at least 14 fatal U.S. crashes since 1975
At least 14 fatal crashes have been reported involving the model of seaplane that crashed with 10 people on board Sunday off Whidbey Island.
The National Transportation Safety Board reports that it has investigated 59 crashes involving the de Havilland DHC-3 Otter floatplane, including eight fatal crashes that killed a total of 18 people between 1975 and August 2004. Six of those crashes involving the DHC-3 happened in Alaska, with others in Puerto Rico and Texas.
While the NTSB data reflects only closed investigations, Associated Press reports indicate at least six more fatal accidents in the U.S. involving that model in the intervening years.
A pilot and two passengers were killed Oct. 26, 2019, in the Canadian province of Manitoba when the right wing of a de Havilland DHC-3 Otter separated from its fuselage, according to a report by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada. The plane was flying at an altitude of 400 feet when the wing came off, causing the plane to plunge into a lake in “a nose-down attitude,” according to the report.
Citing the fatal crash in Canada, last December the FAA issued an airworthiness directive, meant to alert operators to maintenance requirements based on past problems a particular model of aircraft has experienced.
The directive takes aim at the prospect of wear and tear causing wings to separate from the fuselage of DHC-3 aircraft midflight, just one of several concerns with that model that got the FAA’s attention.
In all, the FAA has issued 27 airworthiness directives targeting that model of aircraft. The concerns they address range from engine fires to elevator control systems that control the plane’s pitch and inadequate seat restraints that might not function properly in a crash, among others.
San Diego business owner died in floatplane crash
Joanne Mera, a 60-year-old business owner from San Diego, was among the 10 people who died in a plane crash off Whidbey Island Sunday.
Mera was visiting family in the Seattle area at the time of the crash, according to her niece, Sami Sullivan, who sent a statement on behalf of the family.
“Joanne Mera was someone everyone gravitated towards,” Sullivan said. “She was the life of any party and the soul of our family. She was the best mom, wife, sister and friend.
“Our hearts are shattered, not just for our family’s loss, but for the loss we know other families are feeling right now.”
Family of three identified as crash victims
Ross Andrew Mickel, a renowned Washington vintner and founder of the Eastside-based Ross Andrew Winery, his wife Lauren Hilty and their 22-month-old son Remy were among those identified by the U.S. Coast Guard.
“We are deeply saddened and beyond devastated at the loss of our beloved Ross Mickel, Lauren Hilty, Remy and their unborn baby boy, Luca,” read a statement issued Monday night by the Mickel and Hilty families. “Our collective grief is unimaginable.”
The statement went on to express gratitude to the searchers and other friends and supporters.
The Washington State Wine Commission also sent out a statement about the family:
“We are deeply saddened by the news about Ross Mickel and his family. Ross had an incredible impact on the Washington wine community and he will be greatly missed. Our thoughts are with his loved ones as they navigate this extraordinarily difficult time.”
Recovered body sent to coroner for identification
While the U.S. Coast Guard has released the names of all ten people who were aboard the floatplane when it crashed, the body recovered Sunday evening has not yet been identified.
In a statement, the Coast Guard said the body recovered from the water Sunday night was transferred to the Island County coroner for positive identification.
Civil rights activist Sandy Williams was on plane that crashed off Whidbey Island
The civil rights activist who founded a community center and Black newspaper in Spokane was aboard the plane that crashed Sunday afternoon in the Puget Sound.
The U.S. Coast Guard confirmed that Sandy Williams, the force behind the Carl Maxey Center in Spokane and the publisher of the Black Lens, was a passenger on the plane, said Rick Williams, Sandy Williams’ brother. The Coast Guard determined Monday morning that no one could have survived the crash.
“This is a loss to the whole community, not just the Black community,” said Spokane City Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson, who serves as the president of the Carl Maxey Center board. “A light so bright has been extinguished.”
Rick Williams said that his sister was on her way home from vacationing in the San Juan Islands. The family spoke to her by phone just before she boarded the plane, he said.
Pilot and passengers of crash identified
The U.S. Coast Guard has released the names of the 10 people presumed dead after a floatplane crashed Sunday off Whidbey Island.
The pilot was identified as Jason Winters.
The passengers were:
Remy Mickel (a minor)
Clarification: The U.S. Coast Guard misspelled Jason Winters' name in an initial release.
All 10 aboard floatplane presumed dead after crash near Whidbey Island
WHIDBEY ISLAND — After a fruitless day of searching by air and water, the Coast Guard suspended its search Monday for a missing floatplane with 10 people aboard that plunged into Puget Sound near Whidbey Island and sank in the deep, cold waters of Mutiny Bay.
Hours later, the family of three of those presumed dead identified them as renowned Washington vintner Ross Andrew Mickel, the founder of the Eastside-based Ross Andrew Winery; his wife, Lauren Hilty; and their 22-month-old son, Remy.
Also aboard the plane, according to The Spokesman-Review, was Spokane civil rights activist Sandy Williams, 60, who founded a community center and Black newspaper in that city.
“This is a loss to the whole community, not just the Black community,” Spokane City Councilmember Betsy Wilkerson told The Spokesman-Review.
Searchers have recovered only a single body, a woman’s, but otherwise have found few traces of the single-engine de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Turbine Otter that disappeared from radar Sunday around 3 p.m. The plane, owned by the Renton-based charter service Northwest Seaplanes and operated by Friday Harbor Seaplanes, was traveling from Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands to Renton.
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