Crews to salvage wreckage from Whidbey Island seaplane crash

The NTSB said recovery efforts to lift the wreckage from the seabed are scheduled to begin Sept. 26.

ISLAND COUNTY, Wash. – The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the US Navy will begin efforts later this month to recover the wreckage of a seaplane that crashed in Puget Sound near Whidbey Island earlier in September.

Recovery efforts to raise the wreckage are scheduled to begin Sept. 26, according to the NTSB.

The plane was flying from Friday Harbor, a popular tourist destination in the San Juan Islands, to Renton Municipal Airport when the crash was reported at 3:10 p.m., according to the Coast Guard. The plane crashed in Mutiny Bay off Whidbey Island, about 30 miles northwest of downtown Seattle and halfway between Friday Harbor and Renton.

Nine adults and one child were on board the aircraft at the time of the crash. The body of a woman, identified as Gabrielle Hanna, was recovered by a good Samaritan. The other nine passengers are still missing.

The plane is in about 190 feet of water, according to an update of the NTSB. Due to the depth and speed of the current, which is three to five knots, the agency decided the best way to recover the wreckage was to use a remotely operated vehicle (ROV).

The US Navy will use a work-class Deep Drone 8,000 ROV, barge and crane to retrieve the wreckage from the seabed. Officials said the ROV would collect smaller pieces of wreckage in baskets and connect the wreckage so the crane could lift it, the NTSB said. It will be a “24/7 operation” once the barge is in place.

According to the NTSB, some objects from the plane have already been recovered, including foam fragments from the plane’s floats, a seat cushion, a seat belt, shipping documents, remnants of floor and some of the victims’ personal items.

The NTSB also released its preliminary report detailing the moments leading up to the September 4 seaplane crash.

According to the preliminary report, witnesses near the crash site reported that the aircraft was in level flight before initiating a slight climb, then nose down in a near vertical descent. Several witnesses described the aircraft as “spinning”, “spinning” or “spiraling” during parts of the descent. A witness reported hearing the sound of the engine and propeller, but there was no “pitch change” in the sound.

The NTSB said the plane was operating in accordance with Part 135 of FAA regulations, which govern the operation of business and charter flights. The crash happened on the pilot’s second trip of the day. Each trip involved several flight stages.

The pilot, who started working for the operator in 2013, had accumulated a total of 4,686 flight hours as of May 31, according to the report.

The NTSB said the information in the report is preliminary and subject to change as the investigation progresses. The preliminary report details the facts discovered during the initial on-site investigation and does not include an analysis or probable cause of the accident.

Officials said determining the probable cause of the accident could take between 12 and 24 months.

Lynn A. Saleh