NTSB: Pilot in fatal Ketchikan floatplane crash had prior accident one month ago

With its majestic views and status as a National Monument, float planes tours of Misty Fjords are a popular choice for visitors who come to Ketchikan on cruises, tours, and as independent travelers. (Wikimedia Commons)

The pilot of a sightseeing plane that crashed last week near Ketchikan, killing all six on board, was involved in another accident less than a month earlier, according to federal investigators. 

Alaska State Troopers identified the deceased pilot as 64-year-old Rolf Lanzendorfer of Cle Elum, Wash. in the Aug. 5 crash that killed him and five passengers in Misty Fjords National Monument Wilderness area.

The National Transportation Safety Board’s Alaska office chief Clint Johnson said Lanzendorfer was also the pilot of a July 9 crash, last month when an aircraft of the same make and model hit a buoy and capsized during takeoff on Prince of Wales Island. He was the sole occupant of the plane, which crashed near Coffman Cove.

“There were no injuries,” Johnson said. “The airplane received substantial damage, so it is an accident. But keep in mind that both of these events are being investigated separately.”

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Neither of those investigations are complete, Johnson said. He said the NTSB is not ready to draw conclusions over any connection between the crashes, and neither should the public.

“We’re still gathering those pieces of the puzzle. We have not started putting the puzzle back together,” he said. “We’re not at that juncture at this point right now.”

Johnson said one group of NTSB investigators is looking into the operator of the plane in the Aug. 5 crash, Southeast Aviation, as well as the pilot. Another team traveled to document the wreckage.

Investigators flew over the site Sunday, but poor weather and low visibility had hampered efforts to land earlier this week. On Wednesday, weather began to clear, said Johnson.

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“We’ve held the crew in Ketchikan waiting for this weather window and we’re going to capitalize on that,” he said.

The wreckage is located between 1,800 and 2,000 feet on a mountainside and is only accessible by helicopter.

“This wreckage is in a very challenging site, heavily treed — trees 100 to 150 foot tall — and very steep terrain,” he said. “The only way that we’re going to be able to get that wreckage off of the hill is by slinging it with a helicopter.”

Wreckage recovery is only one of the first steps. The complete investigation into the Aug. 5 crash will likely take a year or longer before NTSB releases its findings.

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