Wreckage in deadly Alaska float plane crash recovered, as good Samaritan recounts rescues

A man who helped survivors said he saw one aircraft go down and heard people in the water yelling for help.

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By Phil Helsel and Molly Hunter

Most of the the wreckage of one of two planes that collided in mid-air while conducting flight seeing tourshas been recovered, and crews in Alaska on Wednesday were working to recover the second. Investigators will put both back together to determine how the crash occurred.

Six people were killed when the float planes, a de Havilland Otter and a de Havilland Beaver, collided near Ketchikan around 12:30 p.m. Monday. Both had passengers from a cruise ship aboard, officials have said. Between the two, 16 people were on board, and 10 survived the collision.

Good Samaritans joined the search for survivors.

Charles Hanas was among those who helped. He was returning home to Ketchikan on a boat with his wife when he saw "a float plane just crash straight into the water with a huge splash."

He said he immediately took the skiff they were towing to help. "There was heads — people in the water," said Hanas, who has lived in Ketchikan for around 40 years.

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"They had seen me, and the one lady: 'Help! Help!'" Hanas said. He took the boat to the woman, who was with a man who was not doing well, Hanas said. That man's head then went under water, Hanas said.

"I reached down and grabbed his hand — and I have handles along my skiff — and I put his hand on there and I says 'hang on to that,' Hanas said.

He helped the woman grab a handle, and then he saw another pair in the water about 10 or 20 yards away to help them. After they grabbed handles, he motored the boat to the beach.

"All I wanted to do was get them out of the water, because it’s cold and they were not swimming very well,” Hanas said. "I just motored them into the beach, and as soon as they touched, then I knew they weren't going to drown."

Hanas said went back out and was able to help other survivors. The pilot in the water was also helping people come in, and another woman got to the beach on her own, he said.

National Transportation Safety Board Member Jennifer Homendy said Wednesday that both planes were inbound toward Ketchikan, which is in the far southeastern part of Alaska, when the mid-air collision occurred.

The Taquan Air plane had descended from around 3,800 to 4,000 feet to around 3,300 feet over several miles, something she described as normal, and was traveling at around 145 mph. The Mountain Air plane was flying at about 3,300 feet and at around 122 mph, she said.

The wreckage of the Taquan Air plane, which was submerged in about 75 feet of water about 50 feet from shore, was loaded onto a barge. Crews were working to recover the wreckage of the Mountain Air plane, but the debris field in that crash stretched over 1,000 by 3,000 feet. A portion was in the water, and some debris was on a mountainside, Homendy said Wednesday afternoon.

The cause of the crash is under investigation. The pilot of the Taquan Air plane and passengers were being interviewed Wednesday, Homendy said. A preliminary NTSB report is expected in about two weeks, she said.