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By RACHEL D’ORO
ANCHORAGE — A small air taxi with seven people on board collided with a fishing boat as the plane was taking off from an Alaska river, state troopers said Monday.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the collision involving a Cessna 207 operated by Katmai Air on Sunday that left three people with minor injuries. NTSB investigator Clint Johnson said it’s surprising the outcome wasn’t any worse.
"We’re absolutely amazed, to be honest with you," he said.
The pilot of the Cessna floatplane, Raymond "Sonny" Petersen, said he keeps thinking about what could’ve been done differently. Petersen, 62, is the owner of Katmai Air.
"I’m not 100 percent sure what happened other than the fact that obviously a boat and an airplane collided," he said. "I never saw the boat and apparently he never saw me. If you do, you avoid it."
The driver of the boat was 29-year-old Ted Gibson of Wisconsin, according to troopers. No hometown was available.
Petersen said those on board the Cessna had booked the flight for a day trip to Brooks Camp, a popular bear-viewing location in Katmai National Park and Preserve.
The collision left the plane upside down and partially submerged in the Naknek River in King Salmon, about 285 miles southwest of Anchorage.
The three people in the boat were thrown into the water, troopers said.
Petersen said everyone in the plane released their seatbelts and made it out of the aircraft as he helped pull them out at the door.
People in other fishing boats saw the accident and went to help. The passengers initially stood on the wings of the Cessna before getting into Good Samaritan boats, Petersen said. Also helpful, workers from a nearby clinic were waiting to head out to Brooks Camp, so they were able to check the passengers right away.
"I’m very grateful that it wasn’t worse," Petersen said. "I’m very grateful also that the first responders were outstanding."
Two of the Cessna passengers and one of the boat passengers were taken to a nearby clinic. It appears that all their injuries were minor, troopers said.
It’s far too early to say what caused the crash, Johnson said. Visibility at the time of the collision was 5 miles and there was a light breeze, but weather has not been ruled out, Johnson said. Petersen said the weather had cleared from earlier in the day by the time the plane was taking off.
The NTSB must still interview the pilot, boat operator and others, including passengers and witnesses. The plane also must be recovered to assess the extent of the damages.
A collision between a plane and a boat has happened before, but it’s very rare, according to Johnson. "It’s pretty unusual," he said. "It’s the first one in a while that we’ve had."