Pilot recounts weather conditions before Ketchikan crash
The pilot in Tuesday's plane crash near Ketchikan told investigators he rerouted due to heavy cloud cover and rising terrain shortly before the aircraft carrying 11 people struck a mountain.
Four of the 11 people involved in the crash have been flown to Seattle for further treatment.
Clint Johnson, the National Transportation Safety Board's Alaska chief, said Wednesday that the Taquan Air flight's pilot -- identified by Alaska State Troopers as 72-year-old Mike Hudgins of Ketchikan -- told the NTSB he had been flying under visual flight rules at the time of the crash. With visibility at 3 to 5 miles, cloud ceilings at 1,100 feet and fog closing in, Hudgins said he tried to climb but ended up crashing on Mount Jumbo southwest of Ketchikan.
A spokeswoman for Ketchikan PeaceHealth Medical Center, Mischa Chernick, said Wednesday that six people were assessed and released in Ketchikan Tuesday, with a seventh admitted and in fair condition Wednesday. The other patients were medevaced to Seattle.
Susan Gregg, a spokeswoman at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, said one of the four people -- a male -- was admitted in satisfactory condition. One was treated and released, with the others set to be discharged Wednesday.
Chris John, commander of the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad, said the occupants were all in Ketchikan after a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter reached the plane shortly after noon Tuesday, in a mountainous area with peaks up to 3,500 feet in height.
Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Jon-Paul Rios said word of the crash about 34 nautical miles southwest of Ketchikan, involving a plane carrying a pilot and 10 passengers, first reached the Coast Guard at about 9:20 a.m. Tuesday. The plane had reportedly hit the side of Mount Jumbo, at an altitude of 2,000 feet, with its emergency locator transmitter activated soon afterward.
The pilot told the NTSB the conditions were typical for the area but as he got closer to Ketchikan, the clouds started to close in so he chose a different route.
Johnson says almost immediately, the pilot encountered an area of mountainous terrain, and despite an emergency climb, he was unable to outclimb the terrain and struck the side of the mountain.
By 1 p.m., he said, the helicopter crew was "in the process of hoisting individuals." Soon afterward, the plane's occupants were en route to Ketchikan aboard Temsco helicopters for a proper medical assessment of their injuries, which the Coast Guard initially reported as minor.
Johnson said Tuesday that the crashed aircraft was a de Havilland DHC-3T Turbine Otter floatplane operated by Taquan. The plane had departed a seaplane base at Steamboat Bay on Noyes Island at about 7:30 a.m., and was en route to Ketchikan.
Taquan Air staff said in a statement after the plane occupants' rescue that they were "thankful for their safe transport and at this time our focus is on assisting these passenger, the pilot, their families and loved ones."
"Taquan Air has suspended all scheduled flights today and is cooperating fully with the NTSB, FAA and other authorities to examine every aspect of this event," company officials wrote. "It is imperative we understand the factors surrounding this incident to help prevent similar ones."
Several cruise ships were in Ketchikan Tuesday, but Holland America Lines and Princess Cruises said in a joint statement that no cruise passengers were on board the plane.
“Guests booked on the impacted excursions will receive refunds,” staff at the cruise lines wrote. “We will continue to offer flightseeing excursions in Alaska with other operators.”
Two MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters were sent to the scene from Air Station Sitka, Rios said. In addition, KVRS had chartered four helicopters to assist the Coast Guard.
Rescuers had been in intermittent cellphone and text-message contact with the people on board, John said Tuesday afternoon, after clouds had hampered morning attempts to reach the crash site.
Johnson said Wednesday that the plane will be removed from the crash site by helicopter, likely over the weekend, for an examination of any mechanical issues. A preliminary NTSB report on the crash should be released early next week, with a final report available in about nine months.
Editor's note: Alaska State Troopers have corrected an initial misspelling of the pilot's name.
Scott Jensen and Lauren Maxwell contributed information to this story.
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