Crews recover bodies of nine victims of Alaska plane crash

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 26, 2015 12:13 PM

By Steve Quinn

JUNEAU, Alaska (Reuters) - Emergency crews recovered on Friday the bodies of nine people from the wreckage of a sightseeing plane that remains teetering on a steep rock face after crashing in Alaska, a rescue official said.

Eight passengers and the pilot were killed when the aircraft, an excursion flight booked via a cruise ship, went down during a tour of the Misty Fjords area of southeast Alaska on Thursday afternoon, flight operator Promech Air said.

A helicopter pilot spotted the wreckage against a granite rock face about 800 feet (240 meters) above Ella Lake, according to an Alaska State Trooper report.

The bodies were recovered by a team of eight crew members, four on site and four as support, working for several hours and using two helicopters and a seaplane, said Chris John of the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad.

Crew members secured the wreckage of the float plane with cables, brought out the bodies one by one and transferred them to a Coast Guard cutter in a nearby bay, he said.

"It was quite an endeavor, but we got it done," John said. "For such a sad thing like this, the operation went well."

The fuselage was intact but badly damaged, and all the victims were inside the aircraft, he said.

Before leaving for the site on Friday morning, Jerry Kiffer, president of the rescue squad, said the remote location of the crash site, low visibility due to clouds and fog and the precarious position of the plane had delayed the recovery effort.

Cruise operator Holland America Line said the DeHavilland DHC-3 Otter float plane crashed near Ella Lake, about 20 miles (30 km) northeast of Ketchikan, a popular summertime cruise destination 230 miles (370 km) south of state capital Juneau.

Federal investigators are in Ketchikan looking into what caused the crash, National Transportation Safety Board officials said.

Conditions were overcast and rainy around the time of the crash, the National Weather Service said.

The excursion flight was sold through Holland America Line, a unit of Carnival Corp.

Promech's flights around Misty Fjords offer views of "towering granite cliffs, 1,000-foot waterfalls, lush and remote valleys and serene crystalline lakes," the company says.

"There is nothing I can say that can alleviate the pain and overwhelming sense of loss," said Marcus Sessoms, president of Promech Air.

(Reporting by Steve Quinn in Juneau; Writing and additional reporting by Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Mohammad Zargham)