5 dead, 1 missing after floatplanes collide in Alaska

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By Doha Madani, Andrew Blankstein and Gemma DiCasimirro

Five people are dead and one person is unaccounted for after two floatplanes carrying passengers from a cruise excursion collided mid-air in Alaska, according to the cruise line.

The two planes carried 14 passengers from the Royal Princess who were on a seven-day roundtrip cruise out of Vancouver, according to a statement Monday from Princess Cruises. The planes collided mid-air about 1 p.m. about eight nautical miles from Ketchikan, Alaska, at the southeastern end of the state.

“We are incredibly distressed by this situation, and our thoughts and prayers are with those onboard the planes and their families,” the cruise company said. “Princess Cruises is extending its full support to traveling companions of the guests involved.”

An Otter floatplane with 11 people onboard was returning from a Misty Fjords tour while a second Beaver floatplane carrying five people was on an independent tour.

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Four cruise goers and one pilot were killed, Princess Cruises confirmed Monday.

The U.S. Coast Guard said in a statement late Monday that four people have been confirmed dead, and two remain unaccounted for. The Coast Guard said that it, partner agencies and good Samaritans were continuing to look for those two people in the vicinity of George Inlet near Ketchikan.

The Coast Guard dispatched helicopters and boats for search-and-rescue operations. The U.S. Forest Service and Alaska State Troopers also responded to the scene.

Ten people involved in the crash were rescued by a passing ship, the Saint Innocent. Three of those rescued were in serious condition and one was critical, a local hospital told NBC News. The others were in fair condition.

Four of the patients, all of whom are in their 60s, were taken to Harborview Medical Center. One of the patients is in intensive care, the others in satisfactory condition, the hospital said.

Taquan Air, the company which operated the De Havilland Otter plane, said in a statement that it has suspended all flights.

Emergency response crews transport an injured passenger to an ambulance at the George Inlet Lodge dock in Ketchikan, Alaska on May 13, 2019.Dustin Safranek / Ketchikan Daily News via AP

“We are devastated by today’s incident and our hearts go out to our passengers and their families,” Taquan Air said. “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 National Transportation Safety Board said Monday it is launching a “go team” to investigate the collision.

This is not the first crash the airline has been involved with. In July 2018, eleven people were rescued after a Taquan Air-operated plane crashed into mountainous terrain on Prince of Wales Island in Alaska.

In 2015, a sightseeing plane operated by a company later purchased by Taquan crashed and killed eight cruise ship passengers.

The Associated Press reported in 2007 that the pilot of a Taquan Air floatplane and four sightseers were killed in a crash over the mountains of Misty Fiords near Ketchikan.

“In a remote area such as this, given our limited resources, we rely on our partner agencies and appreciate the support that good Samaritans have rendered to this point,” Capt. Stephen White, Coast Guard Sector Juneau commander, said in Monday night’s statement. “With the loss of life in this case, we know that the impact to Alaska is immense and our thoughts are with the community here.”

Phil Helsel contributed.