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A team of aviation investigators is now working in a remote, mountainous site in southeast Alaska to determine what caused the crash of a sightseeing plane that killed eight cruise ship passengers and the aircraft's pilot.
The DeHavilland DHC-3 Otter turboprop — also known as a floatplane — went down Thursday. The excursion was sold through the cruise company Holland America.
Seven investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board made it to the crash site on Saturday morning and are spending the day scouring for clues to the disaster, said Clint Johnson, head of the board's Alaska office.
The plane was on its way back from the Misty Fjords National Monument, a wilderness area of lakes, snowcapped peaks and glacial valleys, Johnson said. The terrain where the plane crashed is steep, mountainous, and often sees strong winds and rain.
Johnson said the airplane's wings and tail broke off during impact, but the fuselage — the body of the plane — was largely intact. Officials said the plane crashed about 25 miles from Ketchikan on a cliff, 800 feet above Ella Lake in steep, muddy terrain. The cause of the crash isn't yet known.
"It's way too early to speculate," Johnson said. "We can't speculate out of respect to the families."
The eight passengers were on a cruise on the Holland America Line ship Westerdam. Their 7-day cruise had departed from Seattle on June 20.
Ketchikan-based airline Promech Air, operators of the airplane, said the pilot — 64-year-old Bryan Krill, 64, of Hope, Idaho — had joined the company early this year as a summertime pilot.
A company spokeswoman said Krill was a skilled and experienced pilot with a good safety record. He had flown for many years and had 4,300 hours of flight experience, including roughly 1,700 hours piloting single engine seaplanes. The airplane that crashed is one of five floatplanes operated by the company.