New details in 2015 plane crash that killed nine near Ketchikan

Published: Mar. 22, 2017 at 9:17 PM AKDT
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Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board say they’re getting closer to figuring out what went wrong when a flightseeing plane crashed near Ketchikan during the summer of 2015, killing all nine people on board.

“This was a major investigation for the Alaska office. That’s one of the reasons why it’s probably taking a little longer than the average case that we do up here,” said NTSB regional chief Clint Johnson. “It was a very extensive, exhaustive investigation.”

The agency on Tuesday

including airworthiness reports, interviews with other pilots who had been flying that day, and even footage taken by passengers during the flight. However the investigation is still ongoing and a final determination on the cause of the crash will not be made until the final report is released towards the end of April, Johnson said.

The aircraft, a single engine de Havilland Otter, was the third of four planes operated by the same company to take off from a floating dock in Rudyerd Bay at around noon on June 25, 2015. While crossing over the Misty Fjords National Monument Wilderness, the plane crashed into steep, densely forested terrain near Ella Lake.

"It was probably one of the more challenging areas that we've worked in probably in the last five to six years," Johnson said.

Investigators were able to recover a passenger’s iPad from the wreckage of the plane and found that it had been used to film most of the brief flight after departing from Rudyerd Bay. Still images captured from the footage show the plane crossing Behm Channel before encountering cloud cover and light rain that would have obscured higher terrain from the pilot, the report says.

Investigators also found that the aircraft’s Terrain Avoidance and Warning System, which lets pilots know if they’re getting dangerously close to land, had been manually deactivated or “inhibited” at the time of the crash.

The pilot, a 64-year-old restaurant owner from Idaho named Bryan Krill, was spending that summer in Ketchikan working as a tour pilot for Promech Air, a company that has since been purchased by Taquan Air. According to the report, Krill had about 1,200 hours of flight time in Alaska, although he had never flown in Southeast Alaska before that summer, according to the report.

At first, Krill only flew in the company’s smaller DHC-2 Beaver airplanes. However by early June, his employers upgraded him to pilot the larger DHC-3 Otters. During a training exercise just a few weeks before the accident, Krill’s director of operations described the pilot as “smooth, competent and proficient” in responding to a simulated engine failure.

“Company managers said that the pilot’s cautious decision making was a major reason they had upgraded him to the DHC-3,” the report reads.

However, one Promech employee interviewed by the NTSB disagreed with that decision, according to the report.

“A sixth Promech pilot who had participated as another student in multiple DHC-2 training flights with [Krill] felt that the pilot’s instrument flying proficiency was marginal,” the report reads. “He felt the pilot was not ready to upgrade to the DHC-3.”

So far, Johnson says investigators have found nothing to indicate there was a mechanical problem with the plane. However, that could change as the investigation progresses.

“At this point right now, my recollection is there were no mechanical issues gleaned from our investigation but again, that will be addressed by the board or in the actual final report,” he said.