Eight Holland America Guests Die in Alaska "Flightseeing" Accident

Float planes are popular sightseeing vehicles in Alaska, particularly to Misty Fjords. // Photo by Susan J. Young

Eight passengers from Holland America Line's Westerdam died early Thursday afternoon when their "flightseeing" floatplane crashed into a rock face near Ella Lake about 20 miles northeast of Ketchikan, AK. The pilot of the DeHavilland DHC-3T Turbine Otter also died in the accident.

Ketchikan-based Promech Air was operating the Misty Fjords shore excursion flight. The Westerdam was in the midst of a seven-day Alaska "Inside Passage" voyage that began June 20.

Promech, which has operated charter flights in southeastern Alaska for more than 30 years, put out a press release by Marcus Sessoms, its president: "There is nothing I can say that can alleviate the pain and overwhelming sense of loss that we and the loved ones of those affected are feeling. At this moment, all of us share the pain and anguish of this terrible event."

The passengers had purchased their shore excursion through Holland America. Typically, this type of trip involves a little over an hour of scenic flying time plus a 10-minute water landing on a lake or fjord; the Misty Fjords area is known for its stunning scenic beauty. 

In a statement, Holland America said: "We are incredibly distressed by this situation, and our thoughts and prayers are with those onboard the plane and their families."

The line also is extending what it termed "full support" to the traveling companions of those involved in the accident. 

While the ship's departure from Ketchikan was temporarily delayed, the Westerdam sailed Thursday night around 7 p.m.

The National Transportation Safety Board is now investigating the crash. On Friday morning, the agency said it's sending a "Go Team" from its Alaska regional office to the crash site.

Typically, the NTSB conducts a lengthy, thorough investigative process, designed to get to the bottom of the accident's "cause," and ensure a similar situation does not happen again. It typically will be months or even more than a year before the agency determines the official cause of the accident. 

Weather conditions showed the cloud ceiling was low and conditions were misty at the time of the accident, which Promech estimates at about 12:20 p.m. A helicopter pilot initially spotted the aircraft, according to Alaska State Troopers. Volunteer rescue workers spent two hours to reach the crash site, which was in a rugged area.

The U.S. Coast Guard and volunteers now are working to search for and recover the victims' remains. The names of the passengers and crew member have not been released, pending notification of their next of kin, according to Promech. 

The DeHavilland DHC-3 Otter single-engine aircraft involved in the incident is one of five Otter aircraft operated by Promech Air