Second fatal flightseeing crash in Alaska prompts federal probe

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The second fatal crash of a flightseeing plane near Ketchikan, Alaska, in less than a month has prompted a federal investigation of the area's flightseeing operations.

Both planes were flying with cruise passengers onboard, both were single-engine DeHavilland Beavers and both crashes resulted in five fatalities.

On July 24, four Princess Cruises passengers and a pilot were killed when a plane operated by Taquan Air crashed during a sightseeing tour of the Misty Fjords National Monument.

On August 16, five passengers on a Holland America Line cruise were killed when a plane operated by Seawind Aviation collided with tree-covered terrain while on a bear viewing excursion in Traitor's Cove, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. The pilot and three passengers survived with serious injuries.

Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the NTSB, said that the agency investigates every accident, but given the circumstances they would look into the area's flightseeing operations in general.

"When we have two accidents so close together involving these air tours on these charters, we wanted to take a look if there are any issues connecting them," Knudson said.

Megan Peters, public information officer for the Alaska State Troopers, said that the accidents had brought increased scrutiny to local flightseeing businesses, posing questions related to whether the companies are pushing safety limits and possibly flying even if the weather is bad.

"The NTSB wants to make sure that companies aren't letting lots of money determine whether they are going into the air," she said. "It should be safety that determines that."

Peters pointed out that while the two flightseeing crashes were tragic, small-plane accidents are comparatively common in Alaska. Small planes are often an alternative to cars for the local population, much of which lives in towns that are not connected by roads.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration's statistics, there are 10,672 aircraft registered in the State of Alaska for a population of 670,053 people. New York State, by comparison, has 8,970 registered aircraft among its more than 19 million inhabitants.

To contact reporter Johanna Jainchill, send e-mail to [email protected].

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