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5/13/2019
Two floatplanes down in George Inlet

By DAILY NEWS STAFF

 As of Monday night, four people were confirmed deceased — while a search continued for two other individuals  — from circumstances involving two floatplanes that went down early Monday afternoon at George Inlet.

A total of 16 people were aboard the two aircraft, according to Ketchikan Gateway Borough information. Ten people were transported to PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center with injuries ranging from “severe to life-threatening,” according to the borough.

The Coast Guard has sent a C-130 aircraft from Kodiak to fly in relief crews for helicopter search operations, according to Lt. Brian Dykens, Coast Guard public affairs officer.

The passengers aboard the aircraft were from the cruise ship Royal Princess, according to Princess Cruises.

Details about what occurred were unavailable as of 5 p.m. Monday.

However, “preliminary reports to the Coast Guard indicate that this was a mid-air collision between the two planes,” according to a Coast Guard announcement.

The planes ended up in George Inlet about 1.5 miles apart, according to the borough.

One plane — a de Havilland Beaver with five people on board — went down in the Mahoney Creek area of the inlet, according to the borough.

A Princess Cruises announcement stated that the flight had “four guests from Royal Princess on an independent tour,” but neither Princess Cruises nor other offical sources named the company that was operating the Beaver.

At about 4:25 p.m. Monday, Dykens said that three people aboard the Beaver were deceased, and two were missing.

The names of the deceased have not been released.

 "Typically those won't be released until next-of-kin notifications, and the troopers are conducting those notifications,” Dykens said.

The other aircraft — a de Havilland Otter with 11 people on board — went down in the Coon Cove area, according to the borough.

The Otter was operated by Taquan Air, according to a statement by the Ketchikan-based company.

According to Princess Cruises, “the flight was returning from a Misty Fjords tour and carried 10 guests from Royal Princess and a pilot.”

The Taquan Air announcement stated that “the Coast Guard and local search and rescue teams have confirmed that nine of the guests and the pilot on the Taquan Air plane have been rescued and are receiving medical attention with the condition of one guest still unknown.”

Between 6:45 p.m. and 7:45 p.m., the Coast Guard and borough issued separate statements that the search efforts for three individuals was continuing. At about 8:55 p.m. Monday, the borough announced that “search and rescue crews had recovered the remains of an additional individual.”

There was some confusion Monday evening that stemmed from the Princess Cruises announcement, which stated that five individuals had been confirmed as deceased. The Coast Guard and borough could not confirm that number Monday evening, however,     

Ketchikan's weather early Monday afternoon was fair skies with temperatures in the high 50s and southeast winds at 9 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

Taquan Air reported that its aircraft was involved in an accident at 12:26 p.m. Monday about 8 nautical miles from Ketchikan.

At 12:46 p.m., the South Tongass Volunteer Fire Department was dispatched to a reported boat crash in George Inlet, according to a borough statement.

Local EMS personnel from the Ketchikan-area fire departments were toned out at around 12:50 p.m. to respond to a staging area at George Inlet Lodge.

According to the borough, rescuers did not discover that two planes were down until about 20 minutes into the incident.

The Coast Guard was notified at about 1 p.m., said Dykens. The agency dispatched a helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station Sitka, and two 45-foot response boats from Coast Guard Station Ketchikan.

The Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad and good Samaritans also responded to the scene. One of the private vessels that assisted was Allen Marine Tours St. Innocent.

Other entities that have assisted in the response include the U.S. Forest Service, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Ketchikan Fire Department, North Tongass Volunteer Fire Department, Alaska State Troopers and TEMSCO Aviation.

“George Inlet Lodge also played a pivotal role in the rescue effort, serving as the base of operations for search and rescue,” according to the borough statement.

Dykens said that the Coast Guard was sending a C-130 aircraft from Air Station Kodiak to bring helicopter relief crews to Ketchikan.

“That will allow the Coast Guard to pretty much land those helicopters in Ketchikan and just swap out the crews in a timely manner, instead of having those helicopters fly back to Sitka, pick up new crews and fly back,” he said. “So we'll save time and resources in that effort.”

Taquan Air suspended all of its scheduled flights, and is cooperating“ fully with the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Aviation Administration and other authorities to examine every aspect of this event,” according to the company's statement.

 “We are devastated by this news and our hearts go out to our passengers and their families,” the statement read. “At this time, we are in the midst of an active crisis response, and our focus is on assisting these passengers, the pilot, our staff, their families and loved ones, and first responders.”

The Royal Princess was in Ketchikan on a seven-day cruise that began on Saturday in Vancouver, British Columbia, and is scheduled to conclude next Saturday in Anchorage.

“We are deeply saddened to report this news and our thoughts and prayers are with those who lost their lives and the families of those impacted by today's accident,”  Princess Cruises is extending its full support to traveling companions of the guests involved.

Daily News staff writers Scott Bowlen and Sam Allen contributed to this story.