Editors Note: This story was last updated Sept. 13
The National Transporation Safety Board updated its investigation report on Sept. 12. It has located the wreckage of the DHC-3 Turbine Otter that crashed off Whidbey Island, Washington on September 4. NTSB coordinated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory to use side scan sonar, multibeam sonar, and 3D instruments to locate the wreckage. The University of Washington’s vessel scanned the area identified from the NOAA multibeam data. Using all available data, investigators concluded the targets they identified were from the aircraft.
Due to the depth of the water, approximately 190 feet, and the current (3-5 knots), the most suitable tool for recovery is a work class remotely operated vehicle (ROV). NTSB continues to be in communication with federal agencies and local companies to obtain a work class ROV.
A float plane that had departed from Friday Harbor and was bound for Renton Municipal Airport crashed into Mutiny Bay, Whidbey Island, on Sept. 4, according to a press release by the United States Coast Guard. There were no survivors.
During the short flight, it had not flown higher than 1,000 feet. The plane, which was owned by Northwest Seaplanes and operated by Friday Harbor Seaplanes, was carrying one child, eight adults and the pilot. The body of one passenger was retrieved and positively identified, but by the end of the day on Sept. 5, the Coast Guard called off the search for the remaining passengers.
“It is always difficult when it comes time to make a decision to stop searching,” said Capt. Daniel Broadhurst, Incident Management Branch Chief for the 13th Coast Guard District. “The hearts of all the first responders go out to those who lost a family member, a loved one or a friend in the crash.”
Families of the deceased were notified prior to releasing the names. Those who died were pilot Jason Winters and passengers Patricia Hicks, Sandra Williams, Ross Mickel, his wife Lauren Hilty, their child Remy Mickel, Luke Ludwig, Rebecca Ludwig, Joanne Mera and Gabrielle Hanna. Williams was a well-known social justice advocate from Spokane Washington, and Mickel was the founder of Ross Andrew Winery. None of the plane’s occupants were residents of San Juan County.
The NTSB continues investigating the cause of the incident. NTSB member Tom Chapman thanked the first responders and expressed condolences to the families during a press conference. He explained that investigations similar to this typically take 18 to 24 months. This particular case is unusual in that the wreckage has still not been located.
NTSB is working with Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife to find the plane, or remnants of the plane, which could be spread out below at least 100 feet of water in Mutiny Bay. Chapman stated during the press conference that he was confident that the wreckage would be found at some point. NTSB meanwhile, is looking at pilot records, training records and Federal Aviation Administration surveillance data and collecting weather and aircraft control, among other information, to determine the cause.
“Our mission is to understand not just what happened, but why it happened and recommend changes to prevent it from happening again,” Chapman said. “We will not be determining the cause while we are on scene, nor will we speculate about the cause.”