Alaska pilot saw 'flash' before impact in deadly mid-air plane crash, officials say

KETCHIKAN, Alaska (May 15, 2019) — NTSB investigator Clint Crookshanks and Member Jennifer Homendy near the site of some of the wreckage of the DHC-2 Beaver that was involved in a midair collision near Ketchikan, Alaska, on May 13, 2019. (NTSB Photo by Peter Knudson)
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Federal flight investigators have released a preliminary report, stating the surviving pilot saw a flash just before the deadly midair crash between two Alaska float planes that left multiple people dead earlier this month.

In the report, the National Transportation Safety Board said the two planes, a de Havilland Beaver, operated by Mountain Air Service, and a de Havilland Otter, operated by Taquan Air, were returning from a flightseeing tour northeast of Ketchikan.

The pilot of the Otter, who survived the crash, told NTSB that the flight was normal, and that he was maneuvering the airplane to show passengers a waterfall near Mahoney Lake when the crash happened.

"Just prior to the collision, he saw a flash from his left side, and experienced a large, loud impact," the NTSB wrote in the report. "According to the pilot, the DHC-3 airplane then rolled right and pitched about 40 degrees nose down toward the water in George Inlet. He stated that he was able to maintain some control and flare the airplane prior to impact."

Most of the wreckage from the Otter was found 80 feet underwater, about 400 feet off the east shore. The planes floats were separated and found tied to a tree by rescue personnel about 65 feet north of the main wreckage.

The report states that the Beaver airplane broke apart in-flight after the collision, and the wreckage was scattered over the water and mountainside. The main wreckage - the floats, engine, firewall, instrument panel, lower fuselage structure and right fuselage structure - was found near the mouth of Mahoney Creek. The debris field was about 2,000 feet long by about 1,000 feet wide.

Examination of the wreckage showed the right wing had several mechanical cuts in it, with each cut penetrating further inboard and forward onto the wing structure. The cuts were consistent with impacts from propeller blades.

Those killed were 46-year-old Louis Botha of San Diego, 56-year-old Simon Bodie from Tempe, New South Wales, Australia, 62-year-old Cassandra Webb from St. Louis, 39-year-old Ryan Wilk from Utah and 37-year-old Elsa Wilk of Richmond, British Columbia, Canada. Also killed was the pilot of one of the planes, 46-year-old Randy Sullivan of Ketchikan.

KTUU's Laura Holman contributed to this report.

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