The preliminary report on the fatal May 20 floatplane crash near Metlakatla was released by the National Transportation Safety Board on Friday.
According to the report, the pilot – 51-year-old Ron Rash of Harrisburg Pennsylvania – was a new pilot hired by Taquan Air for the 2019 summer season. The report states that Rash had about 1,600 flight hours. Of those, he had just five hours of experience flying floatplanes.
Rash and the only passenger on board both died in the crash. The passenger was 31-year-old Sarah Luna of Anchorage, an epidemiologist with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.
The NTSB report states that three eyewitnesses were interviewed. They reported that the deHavilland Beaver made a normal approach in a westerly direction. Two of the witnesses said that before touchdown, the wings rocked to the left and then to the right.
When the plane landed, a witness said one of the floats “dug in” to the water, the right wing struck the surface and the plane nosed over quickly before sinking.
Two boats responded immediately, followed by the Metlakatla Police vessel and volunteer emergency responders. The pilot and passenger were removed from the plane and taken to Annette Island Health Center where they were pronounced dead.
The May 20 crash came one week after a May 13 mid-air collision involving two floatplanes carrying tourists. Six people died in the May 13 crash, and 10 survived. A Taquan plane was involved in the May 13 crash, as well. The other plane was operated by Mountain Air Service.
Following both crashes, community members gathered to pray for everyone affected. On May 23, groups gathered in Metlakatla and at Taquan Air headquarters in Ketchikan.
Among others, Carol Towne, a Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad volunteer, led a prayer for first responders. She said they all signed up to help whenever and wherever they are needed.
“They’re willing to drop whatever they are doing,” Towne said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a holiday or what – willing to drop what they are doing at a moment’s notice to answer the call for help.”
Participants in Ketchikan were invited to walk around Taquan in a show of support for the local business and its employees.
Following both crashes, Taquan suspended flights. The company had resumed some flights after the May 13 crash, just days before the May 20 crash.
Taquan resumed scheduled flights on Friday, according to the company. It will resume tours on Monday.
Read the full preliminary report here.