Federal probe launched into fatal collision of Alaska tourist planes

Emergency services transport victims from the wreck of two planes colliding in mid-air in Alaska. (AP pic)

ANCHORAGE: Federal investigators are due in Alaska on Tuesday to try to find out why two sightseeing planes collided in mid-air over open water during daylight hours, killing at least four tourists.

The National Transportation Safety Board investigators are expected to arrive in the southeast Alaska town of Ketchikan, near where Monday’s crash happened, during the afternoon, an NTSB official said.

The two aircraft went down over water about 40-48 km northeast of Ketchikan, according to US Coast Guard Petty Officer Jon-Paul Rios.

Ten other people were injured in the collision, he said.

All 14 passengers on both planes were from the cruise ship Royal Princess, on a seven-day trip from Vancouver to Anchorage and operated by Princess Cruises, the Washington Post reported.

Broadcaster NBC said early on Tuesday that a fifth person had died and one remained missing. One person was critical and three were in a serious condition, it cited a medic at a local hospital as saying.

Reuters could not immediately confirm the updated information on casualties.

The crash site, at Coon Cove about 480 km south of Alaska’s capital, Juneau, lies near a tourist lodge that runs excursions to the nearby Misty Fjords National Monument.

One of the aircraft was a de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver with five people aboard, and the other a de Havilland Otter DHC-3 carrying 11, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer said.

The Ketchikan-based operator of the larger plane, Taquan Air, said its pilot and nine passengers were rescued and receiving medical attention, but one passenger’s fate was unknown.

That group was returning from a flightseeing tour of Misty Fjords when the crash occurred, Taquan said.

Rios initially reported 10 survivors receiving medical care, with six other people from the two planes listed as unaccounted for. He later said four of the missing had been confirmed as dead.

Neither of the single-engine planes was under air traffic control when they collided, Kenitzer said.