Floatplane pilot describes close encounter with boat in Halibut Cove

Floatplane pilot Eric Lee feels that the dangerous incident he experienced in Halibut Cove earlier this week should be investigated by law enforcement.
Published: Aug. 26, 2022 at 2:24 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Floatplane pilot Eric Lee feels that the dangerous incident he experienced in Halibut Cove earlier this week should be investigated by law enforcement.

Lee owns Alaska Ultimate Safaris in Homer and had his plane intentionally circled at close proximity by a boater in Halibut Cove as he was attempting to exit the area with flightseeing passengers on board. A video clip of the encounter went viral, and Lee said he hopes it doesn’t happen again.

In his over 20 years of flying, Lee said that he has never experienced anything resembling what happened on Tuesday. In a phone interview, Lee said he was taxiing through Halibut Cove and preparing to take off for a trip with seven passengers on board when he spotted an aluminum boat approaching him.

“The aluminum boat was coming toward me, I thought they were trying to get around me at first,” Lee said. “Then they started weaving back and forth fairly close to the aircraft.”

Lee said the narrow cove made it difficult to maneuver away from the boat and he worried about what would happen if it were to hit his plane.

“My concern level was high because she was — it appeared to be within inches — but more than likely within feet of our wings,” Lee said. “Had she, at those speeds, hit our wings, I just assumed it was going to be a catastrophe and we would have to evacuate.”

Lee said the possibility of having to safely evacuate seven passengers in the middle of the cove raised even more concerns.

“If the boat did actually hit me, how was I going to get them to get out of the aircraft and to safety,” Lee said. “Because the tide runs through there pretty fast and sometimes creates a pretty strong current, and it’s fairly cold water and, of course, the sides of the bay are fairly rocky too, so it would have been a tough maneuver if I had to do that.”

Fortunately, Lee didn’t have to. He said a second boat appeared, urging the woman who he identified as a local business owner, to stop what she was doing, which she eventually did. Lee was able to get around her boat and safely take off for the flightseeing trip.

Both the U.S. Coast Guard and Alaska State Troopers are investigating the incident and Lee said he’s glad.

“I mean there’s a whole mess of things she could have done differently to address the situation if she had issues with me or just general operations in the cove,” Lee said. " I know that other people have reached out trying to figure out the best solution to all get along in the small environment, and so I think it should be investigated to figure out how to avoid this in the future, 100%.”