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By Daily News Staff
All 11 people aboard a floatplane that went down on Prince of Wales Island’s Mt. Jumbo on Tuesday morning survived the incident and were transported to Ketchikan for medical attention.
The pilot and 10 passengers of the Taquan Air DHC-3T Turbine Otter were hoisted by a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from the incident site — located at an elevation of about 2,000 feet — and brought down to a staging site located about 6 miles east. From there, they were transported by Temsco Helicopters to Ketchikan, and then on to PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center by local fire department ambulances.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Ketchikan-based Taquan Air published a statement that said, in part: “We are thankful for their safe transport, and at this time our focus is on assisting these passengers, the pilot, their families and loved ones.”
Five of the plane’s 11 occupants appear to have suffered substantial injuries in the crash.
As of 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, four patients had been medevaced south; one was in surgery at KMC and would be admitted there; and six had been released following an evaluation, according to PeaceHealth Community Relations Specialist Marty West.
The flight originated at Noyes Island’s Steamboat Bay, according to Clint Johnson, chief of the Alaska Regional Office of the National Transportation Safety Board. The plane’s intended destination was Ketchikan, according to the troopers dispatch.
At around 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Taquan Air pilot Mike Hodgins reported that the plane was down on a mountain near the West Arm of Cholmondeley Sound, according to Alaska State Troopers spokesman Tim Despain. Hodgins reported that there were no deaths, but there were some injuries.
The plane had come to ground on a sheer rock surface of Mt. Jumbo, about 39 miles south-southwest of Ketchikan, according to Coast Guard information.
The Coast Guard estimated that the visibility at the time of the incident was two miles, with three miles of ceiling. There were broken clouds at 1,200 feet and overcast at 1,700 feet. The temperature was about 58 degrees.
Members of the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad and Guardian Flight Alaska responded via Temsco helicopters, but were unable to reach the crash site due to poor visibility, according to KVRS Assistant Commander Chris John.
The Coast Guard launched two Jayhawk helicopters from Coast Guard Air Station Sitka and took command of the operation. At about 11:51 a.m. Tuesday, the Coast Guard reported that the downed aircraft had been located, according to the troopers’ online dispatch.
One of the Jayhawk helicopters hoisted the 11 people from the site and transported them down to a staging area at sea level, where they were loaded onto five Temsco helicopters and transported to Ketchikan, according to John.
All five helicopters touched down at the Temsco Helicopters heliport in Ketchikan between 1:25 and 1:37 p.m. They were met by six ambulances from Ketchikan’s three fire departments, along with members of Guardian, the Alaska State Troopers, the Ketchikan Police Department and KVRS.
The passengers were loaded into ambulances and transported to KMC. Some walked to the ambulances on their own, and emergency response personnel moved others on stretchers.
South Tongass Volunteer Fire Department Chief Steve Rydeen described some of the injuries based on preliminary information early on Tuesday afternoon.
“I know that there were a couple of back injuries, a head laceration, a foot injury and then minor cuts and bruises,” Rydeen said, adding that broken ribs were also a possibility for one patient.
Following the rescue, John said that the operation went smoothly in spite of adverse weather conditions.
Taquan Air suspended all of its scheduled flights for the remainder of the day Tuesday, according to its prepared statement, which added that the company is “cooperating fully with the NTSB, FAA and other authorities to examine every aspect of this event.
“It is imperative we understand the factors surrounding this incident to help prevent similar ones,” the statement said.
Johnson of the NTSB said Brice Banning, one of the agency’s senior investigators, is the investigator in charge of the case.
“I know (Banning) was already in initial contact with the folks at Taquan Air,” Johnson said.
The NTSB would give Taquan a day or so to get situated before the investigation gets underway.
“First and foremost, we'll ... hopefully be able to talk to the pilot here,” Johnson said. “His health is obviously paramount, so we'll wait until he’s able to do that, to kind of get an idea of what the circumstances were that led up to this accident here.”
The NTSB also will need to be able to look at the wreckage once it’s removed, Johnson said.
“Obviously, where it is is not really conducive to doing much of a wreckage exam,” he said. “So usually what we do is we wait until it’s recovered. Most likely it will be recovered back to Ketchikan there, and then we'll make a decision at whether we need to look at the wreckage. Everything’s pretty much going to be hinged on what the pilot says, if there was a mechanical issue that led to this, or if it was, you know, a weather issue, we just don’t know right now — way too early.”
Banning will be talking with the other people who were on the plane, in addition to the Coast Guard pilots and others to get a better idea of the conditions at the time of the incident, according to Johnson.
Johnson credited the Coast Guard, KVRS, Temsco and the Alaska State Troopers for their response and rescue efforts.
“We need to hand it to them, they did a spectacular job here,” Johnson said.
The Taquan Air statement also expressed appreciation for the response work.
“We also want to acknowledge and thank the dozens of people who have been instrumental in the rescue efforts this morning,” the statement read. “In addition to the NTSB, FAA and state troopers, we extend our heartfelt thanks to Temsco Helicopters, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad and the entire Ketchikan community.”
(Daily News staff writers Scott Bowlen and Billy Singleton contributed to this report.)