Passengers on the Royal Princess cruise ship say the mood was somber after hearing word of the collision of two float planes that killed six people, including five passengers from the ship. They spoke when the ship docked in Juneau, Alaska. (May 15)
An Alaska air carrier has voluntarily suspended operations after two deadly crashes in a week, federal officials said Tuesday.
All Taquan Air commuter and sightseeing flights have been cancelled indefinitely, the Federal Aviation Administration said, after two of the regional airline’s floatplanes crashed in the southeastern part of the state near Ketchikan.
Investigators are treating the crashes as separate cases, said Clint Johnson, chief of the National Transportation Safety Board in Alaska. In his 21 years with the board, he said it marks the first time multiple accidents involving one operator occurred back-to-back, not just in the same season.
A Beaver floatplane carrying a pilot and one passenger cartwheeled into Metlakatla Harbor while landing on Monday afternoon, one week after an Otter floatplane collided in midair with another floatplane near George Inlet. Six people died in the first crash, including a pilot and sightseeing passengers who were traveling on the same cruise ship.
How did it happen?: NTSB begins probe of midair collision of Alaska floatplanes that killed 6 people
“As you can imagine the past 24 hours have been incredibly overwhelming and we are reeling from not only the incident yesterday, but also from last week. It’s been a really heavy and heartbreaking time for us,” a message on Taquan Air’s website reads. “Our priority has been our passengers and their families and our internal staff, and pilots. We have voluntarily suspended all of our operations until further notice. We are grateful for your patience and the outpouring of community support and we will update you as soon as we have more information to share.
Officials began investigating Monday’s crash on Tuesday, and Johnson said he expects investigators to be onsite for about three days. The onsite investigation into the May 13 crash was expected to end this week, NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy said at a press conference, but it will take longer to determine the cause of the crash.
Mike Slack, a licensed pilot and aviation attorney representing several injured passengers from a July 2018 Taquan Air floatplane crash, has accused the regional carrier of disregarding basic safety practices.
“They have ignored the lessons of their prior crashes and the admonitions from the National Transportation Safety Board citing them for a culture which promotes risk taking,” Slack said in a statement to USA TODAY. “Tour operators like Taquan Air have been admonished by the NTSB for putting revenues over safety by trying to get in as many revenue flights as they can during the summer flying seasons.”
The floatplane crashes are not the first to claim multiple lives. A pilot and eight cruise ship passengers died in 2015 when an Otter floatplane operated by Promech Air Inc. crashed into mountains about 24 miles from Ketchikan.
Federal investigators attributed the crash to pilot error, the company’s culture and lack of a formal safety program. Taquan Air purchased the assets of Promech in 2016, and currently employs three pilots who worked for Promech, a company spokesperson said last week.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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