A Coast Guard Air Station Sitka MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew hovers while searching for a survivor from a report of two aircraft colliding in the vicinity of George Inlet near Ketchikan, Alaska, May 13, 2019. Ten survivors of the crash had reportedly swam to shore and were rescued by Coast Guard aircrews while the search continues for two people still reported to be missing from the crash. (Courtesy photo | Ryan Sinkey)

A Coast Guard Air Station Sitka MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew hovers while searching for a survivor from a report of two aircraft colliding in the vicinity of George Inlet near Ketchikan, Alaska, May 13, 2019. Ten survivors of the crash had reportedly swam to shore and were rescued by Coast Guard aircrews while the search continues for two people still reported to be missing from the crash. (Courtesy photo | Ryan Sinkey)

‘A cloud of sadness’: Search concludes and death toll officially rises near Ketchikan

Details about crash emerge, names of those involved still withheld

The remains of two passengers were found near Ketchikan, which means all 16 people aboard two floatplanes that reportedly collided Monday are accounted for.

A total of six people died after the crash, according to a Ketchikan Gateway Borough press release sent just after 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, while press conferences and a vigil were held, search efforts had continued for two people who were aboard a de Havilland Beaver floatplane.

“We’re still holding out a little hope that we will find those two people,” said U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Matthew Schofield.

[Follow along with our live updates about the crash here]

The planes were carrying 16 people — a mix of cruise ship passengers and pilots consisting of one Australian, one Canadian and 14 Americans — at the time of the crash. Four people were confirmed dead after the crash.

The Otter was owned and operated by Taquan Air, and the Beaver was owned and operated by Mountain Air Service. Five people including a pilot were aboard the smaller plane and 11 people including a pilot were aboard the larger plane.

The Taquan plane was heading southwest toward Ketchikan at about 140 mph, and the smaller plane was heading west-southwest toward Ketchikan at about 125 mph, and the two planes converged at about 3,200 feet, according to preliminary information shared by and Jennifer Homendy, board member on the National Transportation Safety Board.

The missing passengers were both aboard the smaller plane, said Jerry Kiffer of Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad during a teleconference held Monday afternoon.

He did not provide additional identifying information about the missing people.

While names of passengers and pilots have not been released or confirmed by the U.S. Coast Guard or Alaska State Troopers, social media posts shared Tuesday indicate pilot Randy Sullivan of Ketchikan, owner and operator of Mountain Air Service, was involved in the accident.

Friends and family of Sullivan posted messages of mourning and remembrance, but they did not reply to messages seeking comment. Mountain Air Service did not respond to calls or a message.

Wells Fargo in Ketchikan has established a memorial account for Sullivan’s family.

Facebook

A Wells Fargo branch manager said deposits to the Randy Sullivan memorial account can be made in person at any Wells Fargo in the country.

In addition to the dead and missing, 10 people suffered injuries as a result of the crash.

The injuries ranged in severity from broken bones and lacerations to life-threatening injuries, and the injured people were initially transported to Ketchikan Medical Center.

Mischa Chernik, marketing and communications manager at the Ketchikan Medical Center, said via phone Tuesday morning that four people were flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle with serious injuries. The six people at the Ketchikan Medical Center, she said, are all in good condition and she said they expect to release one person today.

Multiple public events were held Tuesday to show community support and share information amid what residents characterized as a sad atmosphere in Ketchikan.

A lunchtime prayer event similar to an annual Christmas tradition was held at the medical center.

“Last night, it was just literally a cloud of sadness,” said organizer Rhonda Bolling, who said she knows people directly affected by the accident. “I’ve been on the verge of tears.”

Bolling said she would be praying for those involved in the crash but also for searchers and the tight-knit travel industry.

“We worry because these people are coming up for the trip of a lifetime,” Bolling said. “For this to happen just crushes them. It hurts all of the tour operators.”

“It was really, really a traumatic day for (emergency responders) yesterday,” she added.

Later in the afternoon, press conference and teleconference was held during which city and featured comments from borough mayors, a Coast Guard commander, and Homendy.

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Homendy outlined some of the things said wreckage from both planes is expected to be recovered tomorrow and more information about how the two planes came together will be determined in the coming days.

Neither plane had or was required to have voice or data recorders, Homendy said.

While Homendy said an NTSB investigation of the crash will not determine the cause of the crash, it will consider factors and review information that may have led to it.

“We’ll be looking at pilot log books, we’ll be looking at the training and qualification of pilots, any medical issues, whether flight plans were filed with the company or the Federal Aviation Administration,” Homendy said. “We’ll be looking at maintenance records for both air crafts. We will be looking at company operating procedure and whether those operating procedures were followed. We’ll be looking at the routes that were flown.”


• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.


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