Officials have located what may be wreckage from a deadly floatplane crash in Mutiny Bay after five days of searching.
The National Transportation Safety Board announced Friday that “identified targets” had been found on the seafloor near the crash site. Using sonar provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, investigators combed a 1.75-by-0.75-mile stretch of Puget Sound on Thursday around where the plane is believed to have crashed.
Right now, the targets are just “dozens of squiggles on a chart,” according to Doug Brazy, the NTSB investigator in charge.
The possible plane debris consists of objects with irregular shapes or sharp edges visible on sonar images, Brazy said Friday.
“They could be part of the plane, they could be garbage,” Brazy said, noting that most of the targets are in a concentrated area.
Sonar cannot determine the material or density of the objects, but the NTSB has measured some of them. One of the larger objects is 9 feet long.
If the targets are confirmed to be from the plane, Brazy said it would indicate the wreckage is in many small pieces rather than one fairly intact plane, noting ”there’s no big blob on the map.”
A NTSB spokesperson said remote-operated vessels will go beneath the surface to capture images of the targets identified by sonar to see if they are, in fact, parts of the missing plane.
The targets are located 100 to 200 feet below the surface in water with about a 3- to 5-knot current. The depth and motion of the water have hindered search efforts all week.
The NTSB is working with government and private sources to get the appropriate “work class” remote-operated vessels. Brazy said they have to use such vessels instead of divers because of the depth, and the work class vessels are necessary to withstand the current.
He’s ”hopeful” officials will be able to deploy them in a matter of days.
The de Havilland DHC-3 Otter floatplane traveling from Friday Harbor to Renton went down just after 3 p.m. Sunday, nose-diving into the water, causing a large splash and a loud boom, reported by more than two dozen onlookers. The plane was flying at less than 1,000 feet, according to the NTSB, and had taken off just after 2:30.
Since the crash, only small pieces of debris, some personal items and one body, identified as 29-year-old Gabby Hanna, have been recovered. Witnesses described the floatplane “disappearing” shortly after it hit the water.
NTSB Board Member Tom Chapman said Tuesday that locating the wreckage is imperative to the investigation, including determining the cause of the crash.
“We don’t know the cause of the accident at this point. It could be related to a system failure or a mechanical failure or some other factor related to the aircraft, but we don’t know that and without evidence it’ll be a challenge,” Chapman said Tuesday.
Brazy said the investigation’s timeline has been standard for a water impact incident, calling the process “frustrating” but ”par for the course.”
The NTSB previously worked with divers and surface crews provided by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife before teaming with NOAA to use sonar Thursday.