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Report: Harrisburg pilot had just 5 hours experience before fatal floatplane crash in Alaska

Written by Dan Joling/The Associated Press | May 31, 2019 5:39 PM
Alaska floatplane crash May 20.jpg

FILE - This Monday, May 20, 2019 photo provided by Aerial Leask shows good Samaritans aboard a fishing vessel attempting to bring in a floatplane that crashed in the harbor of Metlakatla, Alaska. A preliminary National Transportation Safety Board report released Friday, May 31, 2019 says the pilot had just five hours of floatplane experience when he began company orientation in April. (Aerial Leask via AP, File)

(Anchorage, Alaska) -- A pilot who crashed a commercial floatplane while landing at a southeast Alaska village had just five hours of floatplane experience when he began his company orientation in April, according to federal investigators.

The National Transportation Safety Board on Friday released the preliminary report on the May 20 crash of a Taquan Air flight in the harbor at Metlakatla.

The crash killed pilot Ron Rash, 51, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Sarah Luna, 32, a senior epidemiologist in the liver disease and hepatitis program of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. She was the only passenger.

It was the second fatal crash for the Ketchikan-based Taquan Air in less than week. On May 13, a Taquan floatplane on a flightseeing tour collided mid-air with another floatplane. Six people died and 10 people were injured.

The NTSB preliminary report cites no cause for the second crash.

Managers at Taquan Air told investigators that Rash, who is not named in the NTSB report, was a new seasonal hire for the 2019 season.

He held a commercial pilot certificate with single-engine land, single-engine sea and instrument airplane ratings.

When he started Taquan orientation on April 22, he had accumulated more than 1,600 flight hours but just five in airplanes equipped with floats. He completed check rides in a float-equipped plane on May 3 and initial operation experience requirements on May 11.

The floatplane crashed on a scheduled flight while landing after a 22-mile flight from Ketchikan.

An airport near the crash site reported winds at 11.5 mph, visibility of 10 miles and clear skies.

Three witnesses said the floatplane's approach to the harbor was normal.

Two said that just before the floats touched the water, the airplane's wings rocked left and then right. One witness said the right wing struck the water and the airplane flipped nose-first.

A witness from a fishing boat said he saw the right float "dig into the water" before the airplane nosed over. The right wing and right lift strut broke off and sank. They have not been recovered.

The cockpit and airplane cabin partially sank. Two boats rushed to aid the plane and a fishing boat hoisted the tail slightly out of the water. The good Samaritans and Metlakatla emergency medical technicians removed the pilot and passenger from the plane. They were declared dead at Annette Island Health Center.

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