NTSB: Pilot, passengers, witness give different accounts of deadly Tutka Bay crash
In the National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report on the fatal floatplane crash in Tutka Bay earlier this month, the pilot, passengers and a witness gave their accounts of what happened that morning — with the biggest difference being whether the plane ever left the water.
The aircraft, a de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver, was carrying seven people when it crashed during takeoff around 10 a.m. Friday, July 19 near the mouth of the bay. One passenger, 57-year-old Joseph Patenella of Maryland, died before making it to the hospital.
The pilot spoke to investigators three days after the crash, according to the report. He said that as he was accelerating on the step for takeoff, he felt the plane had “lost its rigidity” and started to yaw — or twist — to the left. The pilot said he wasn’t able to compensate and so the left wing hit the water and the plane lurched forward and nosed over. He said the right wing separated from the fuselage and water started to fill the cabin.
Passengers reported choppy water conditions in the bay and that “the airplane impacted a swell or wave and nosed over abruptly, and the cabin rapidly filled with water.” One passenger said the plane was briefly in the air before the impact.
A witness near the accident similarly reported the airplane was in the air before the crash. According to the report, he saw the plane struggle to get airborne, level off at 50-100 feet, then gradually descend toward the water. He said the impact was on the nose of the left float, causing the plane to cartwheel and land upside down.
An Alaska State Trooper said the winds were less than 10 knots at the site and seas were less than one foot with long wavelengths.
“The Trooper recalled that while at the hospital, the pilot stated that he was taking off parallel to the swells when the airplane impacted a swell and became airborne, the left float broke and the airplane cartwheeled,” the report read.
The day after the crash, the NTSB examined the plane’s wreckage. The right wing, right aileron and right lift strut were missing. The board found that some of the tie rods attached to the floats had become separated and others “exhibited compression signatures.”
The report says a detailed exam of the wreckage is pending.
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