A 51-year-old pilot and 31-year-old epidemiologist were identified as those who died in Monday afternoon’s floatplane crash near Metlakatla.
Ron Rash of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, was the pilot of the floatplane that crashed, according to a statement from Metlakatla Indian Community, and Sarah Luna of Anchorage was the plane’s only passenger.
“Sarah was traveling to Metlakatla to see patients at Annette Island Service Unit with other ANTHC staff,” read a statement from the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium post. “Sarah joined the ANTHC family nearly a year ago as a Senior Epidemiologist in the Liver Disease & Hepatitis Program. She was an up and coming research professional, who embodied the characteristics most valuable to our team and was truly committed to improving the health and well-being of Alaska Native people. This is a devastating personal loss for many of our staff and partners.”
Rash was certified to operate a single-engine seaplane, like the Taquan Air Beaver involved in Monday’s crash, according to Federal Aviation Administration documents.
This is the second fatal floatplane crash in Southeast Alaska within the past week. Ten were injured and six died after last Monday’s mid-air collision near Ketchikan.
Both crashes involved Beaver floatplanes operated by Taquan Air. Taquan Air voluntarily suspended operations Tuesday, according to the FAA, but the airline did not return calls or messages seeking comment.
Both NTSB and FAA officials were onsite Tuesday to begin an investigation into the crash.
There were unfavorable conditions for approach because of prevailing winds creating swells, according to a chart supplement on aeronautical chart website SkyVector.
The Beaver was up to date on its certification, according to FAA documents, and the aircraft was made in 1959.
The crash occurred around 4 p.m. Monday, and witness statements reported the plane flipped upon impact with the water while attempting to land and quickly submerged, according to a press release from the Ketchikan Emergency Operations Center.
Triton, a medivac response vessel, and Lady Liv, a 58-foot commercial seiner, secured the plane, which was then transported to shallow waters pending a National Transportation Safety Board investigation, according to a Metlakatla Indian Community statement. Multiple good Samaritans assisted in securing the plane.
Metlakatla Mayor Karl Cook praised the actions of the community in the aftermath of the wreck.
“I’m pretty proud of the community of course,” Cook said during an interview with the Empire. “I think any community in the state would respond the same way. I think the whole state would be proud of what happened here as far as the response. I feel like it’s something that’s bred in us all in Alaska to give a hand without giving it a whole lot of forethought.”
• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.