Photograph taken in August 2021 by one of five passengers aboard a Southeastern Aviation seaplane shows a rainy morning in Ketchikan Harbor – typical of the tourist hub but not ideal for a trip.
Partly visible under the plane’s wing is the Nieuw Amsterdam, the cruise ship that passengers departed for the 90-minute flight through the majestic scenery of the Misty Fjords National Monument and back to port.
They never came back.
The Southeast Aviation de Havilland DC-2 Beaver departed Misty Fjords on the morning of August 5, 2021 and crashed into steep, wooded terrain about 18 miles northeast of Ketchikan, killing all five passengers and the pilot.
The photograph is part of a new National Transportation Safety Board report released Thursday that describes rapidly deteriorating weather conditions at the time of the fatal crash last year. The photo is from one of three investigator iPhones recovered from the wreckage.
A probable cause report is due in about three weeks, officials said.
Several photos taken in the moments before the crash show low clouds obscuring the side of a valley north of Mirror Lake where the wreckage was found. A final photo only shows low clouds and mountain.
Pilots who helped search for the wreckage reported obscured mountain peaks and valley clouds as low as 600 to 800 feet, according to the report. The aircraft crashed at approximately 1,750 feet.
The accident marked another in a series of air disasters in Southeast Alaska involving tour pilots flying into the mountains in bad weather without widely available equipment to improve safety in low visibility.
Ketchikan, surrounded by mountains and subject to changeable weather, has seen 18 crashes between 2004 and 2021 that killed 27 people and injured 29, 14 seriously, according to NTSB data. A 2015 crash in Misty Fjords killed eight cruise ship passengers and the pilot of a Promech Air flight.
A group of Ketchikan flightseeing companies developed voluntary safety protocols for the busy skies around Misty Fjords in a revised letter of agreement last year. Southeast Aviation LLC was a signatory.
“The accident flight did not follow the standard Misty Fjords route described in the (letter), nor the recommended altitudes for flights to and from Misty Fjords,” the report said.
The new report also refers to another crash a month earlier involving crash pilot Rolf Lanzendorfer, 64, a Washington resident.
Lanzendorfer didn’t check his takeoff route “because he was in a hurry to get back because there were more scheduled flights” and hit a 1,500-pound marine buoy, according to a report filed as part of the investigation file. The plane overturned and sank. Lanzendorfer was not injured.
A Federal Aviation Administration investigation determined that the pilot “acted negligently.”
NTSB investigators in the new report say they found no record that Southeast Aviation provided additional training to Lanzendorfer after the July crash.
A representative for Southeast Aviation could not immediately be reached for comment on Thursday.
Lead accident investigator Heidi Kemner received no response to multiple inquiries from company officials, according to NTSB Alaska chief Clint Johnson.
The families of four of the five passengers on the crash flight – Andrea McArthur, 55, and her 20-year-old daughter, Rachel McArthur, both of Woodstock, Georgia; Jacquelyn Komplin, 60, of Napa, Calif.; and Janet Kroll, 77, of Mount Prospect, Illinois, are suing Holland America Line.
A 69-year-old Californian, Mark Henderson, also died in the accident.
The lawsuit, filed last month in U.S. District Court in Seattle, alleges the Seattle-based cruise line pressures outside tour operators to take unnecessary risks to meet cruise schedules and n do not warn passengers of the dangers.
None of the passengers had booked their trip as an excursion with the cruise ship or Holland America, according to the NTSB report. Cruise lines, however, often promote the trips to passengers as a quick way to get deep into the surrounding wilderness.
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At 2.3 million acres, Misty Fjords is the largest wilderness area in Alaska’s National Forests and the second largest in the nation. The Behm Canal, over 100 miles long, runs through the monument.
The cruise ship Nieuw Amsterdam arrived at the port of Ketchikan around 7 a.m. on the day of the accident and was due to depart at 4 p.m., according to the report. Due to the accident, he did not leave until around 6:30 p.m.
The owner of Southeast Aviation told investigators that Lanzendorfer described the weather for Misty Fjords as good, but wanted to cancel a midday flight to Hyder due to low ceilings.
The plane took off around 9:40 a.m., landed at Big Goat Lake in Misty Fjords around 10:20 a.m. and departed seven minutes later, the report said. The Beaver began crossing the Behm Channel at just under 3,000 feet.
“Throughout the flight, the aircraft continued to descend while maneuvering over terrain and flying in areas of reduced visibility, as shown in passenger photographs,” Kemner wrote.
The US Coast Guard picked up the plane’s emergency signal around 10:50 a.m. and tracked it down about 30 minutes later. The beaver had hit a tree. There were no survivors.
Lanzendorfer made one trip before the accident flight.
“Rolf was slipping away a bit, apparently to avoid the clouds” at the end of the flight, one passenger wrote in an email to investigators. “By the time we landed and were on ground transportation back to our hotel, the weather no longer invited a sightseeing flight.”
Another passenger said “the skies filled with clouds and fog” as they approached Ketchikan.
“Rolf handled the approach and landing with the relative ease of someone who had done it many times before,” that person wrote in a post. “After landing we actually met the next 5 people coming out – all from the US cruise ship Holland. I will always remember Rolf and these 5 people.”
. final photos show deterioration of weather conditions during the accident theft Ketchikan who killed people