Rescue teams are searching the waters of southeast Alaska for two passengers who are missing after a pair of sightseeing planes crashed in midair, killing at least four people and injuring 10 others.
The two missing people, an Australian and a Canadian, were among 14 passengers from a Princess Cruises ship who boarded two seaplanes operated by separate tour companies in the town of Ketchikan.
Ten people survived but were injured in the collision, which took place over open water on Monday at about 1pm.
At least four, including one of the pilots, were killed.
The water temperature off Ketchikan on Tuesday was 48 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Weather Service. Expected survival time in 40 to 50 degree water is one to three hours, according to the United States Search & Rescue Task Force website.
“At this point there is a variety of factors that go into survivability,” Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Matthew Schofield said.
“But the reality is that Alaskan waters are very cold.”
Tuesday’s search for the two missing passengers involved a Coast Guard helicopter, a flotilla of boats and teams from the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ketchikan Fire Department and other rescue units.
Schofield said the efforts would continue “until we have exhausted all chance of finding anybody’.
All of the passengers on board the planes had arrived in Ketchikan on Monday on the cruise ship Royal Princess during a seven-day trip between Vancouver and Anchorage.
Ten passengers and a pilot were aboard one float plane, a de Havilland Otter DHC-3, operated by Taquan Air.
Four passengers and a pilot were aboard the second float plane, a de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver, run by Mountain Air Service of Ketchikan.
The crash site at Coon Cove lies near a tourist lodge that runs excursions to the nearby Misty Fjords National Monument.
Ketchikan-based Taquan Air said the plane was returning from a sightseeing tour of Misty Fjords when the crash occurred.
A statement from Princess Cruises confirmed that 10 of its guests and a pilot were on board one plane, while four of its other guests were on the other plane on an independent tour.
The Royal Princess was set to dock in Anchorage on May 18.
Passengers on the ship said the captain alerted them to the fatal incident via the PA system. The captain waited to the relatives of those involved in the accident to disembark the ship prior to making any announcements.
The ship was delayed several hours before leaving Ketchikan and making its way to Juneau.
The ship left Vancouver on May 11 and had been scheduled to arrive in Anchorage on Saturday.
A spokeswoman for Taquan Air, operator of the Otter, said the company had suspended operations while federal authorities investigated the deadly crash.
‘We are devastated by today’s incident and our hearts go out to our passengers and their families,’ Taquan said in a statement on Monday.
The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating.
Princess Cruises said in a statement: ‘Our thoughts and prayers are with those who lost their lives and the families of those impacted by today’s accident. Princess Cruises is extending its full support to traveling companions of the guests involved.’
Deanna Thomas, a spokeswoman for the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, the local government, said on Monday evening: ‘It’s been a long day and the crews have been working really hard to rescue people and recover the deceased.’
The team of federal accident investigators arrived in Alaska on Tuesday to try to piece together what caused the deadly mid-air collision between two sightseeing planes.
The Washington, D.C.-based investigative team from the National Transportation Safety Board is expected to arrive in Ketchikan in the afternoon.
Agency spokesman Peter Knudson said board member Jennifer Homendy is also traveling with the so-called ‘Go Team,’ which investigates major accidents.
The floatplanes collided under unknown circumstances, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer said.
Floatplanes have pontoons mounted under the fuselage so they can land on water.
It’s not the first time a major plane crash has occurred near Ketchikan, a popular tourist destination.
In June 2015, a pilot and eight passengers died when a de Havilland DHC-3 Otter operated by Promech Air Inc. crashed into mountainous terrain about 24 miles (39 kilometers) from Ketchikan.
The NTSB later determined that pilot error and lack of a formal safety program were behind the crash.
And in 2007, five people were killed when a Beaver floatplane carrying tourists crashed in the same area.