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Investigators at Alaska site of plane crash that killed 9

June 27, 2015

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A team of aviation investigators is now working in a remote, mountainous site in southeast Alaska to determine what caused the crash of a sightseeing plane that killed eight cruise ship passengers and the aircraft’s pilot.

The DeHavilland DHC-3 Otter turboprop — also known as a floatplane — went down Thursday. The excursion was sold through the cruise company Holland America.

Seven investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board made it to the crash site on Saturday morning and are spending the day scouring for clues to the disaster, said Clint Johnson, head of the board’s Alaska office.

The plane was on its way back from the Misty Fjords National Monument, a wilderness area of lakes, snowcapped peaks and glacial valleys, Johnson said. The terrain where the plane crashed is steep, mountainous, and often sees strong winds and rain.

Johnson said the airplane’s wings and tail broke off during impact, but the fuselage — the body of the plane — was largely intact. Officials said the plane crashed about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Ketchikan on a cliff, 800 feet (240 meters) above Ella Lake in steep, muddy terrain. The cause of the crash isn’t yet known.

Investigators will be looking into weather conditions, pilot qualifications and training records, plane maintenance and inspection records, as well as communications between pilots in the area of the crash, Johnson said.

The victims’ remains were flown off the mountain on Friday. The eight victims were passengers on the Holland America Line ship Westerdam. Their 7-day cruise had departed from Seattle on June 20.

Among the deceased was a couple who had found love again later in life.

Rowland Cheney, a 71-year-old artist from Lodi, California, planned to propose to Mary Doucette on this trip, said Cheney’s daughter Marin Whitaker on Saturday.

Doucette, 59, was a lifelong resident of Lodi. Both had lost longtime spouses in recent years and had found love again.

“Oh we loved Mary, she was such a beautiful person, just lovely,” Whitaker said through tears.

“My dad lived life to the fullest,” she said. “He did everything big, so he did this big too.”

Another passenger who perished in the crash, 31-year-old Glenda Cambiaso, was a social worker in Montgomery County, Maryland in child welfare services. Her father, 65-year-old Hugo Cambiaso, also died in the crash.

Other victims identified by Alaska State Troopers include June Kranenburg, 73, and Leonard Kranenburg, 63, of Medford, Oregon, and Margie Apodaca, 63, and Raymond Apodaca, 70, of Sparks, Nevada.

Ketchikan-based airline Promech Air, operators of the airplane, said the pilot who also died — 64-year-old Bryan Krill, of Hope, Idaho — had joined the company earlier this year as a summertime pilot.

A company spokeswoman said Krill was a skilled and experienced pilot with a good safety record. He had flown for many years and had 4,300 hours of flight experience, including roughly 1,700 hours piloting single engine seaplanes. The airplane that crashed is one of five floatplanes operated by the company.

Johnson said investigators will likely fly the pieces of the airplane via helicopter line to Ketchikan, where it will be reassembled and checked for any mechanical problems.

Sally Andrews, a Holland America Line spokeswoman, said by email that the cruise company is “incredibly saddened by this news and our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of those lost in this tragic accident.”

There were 2,095 passengers on the Westerdam. That includes the eight people who died in the crash. The cruise ended in Seattle on Saturday, as scheduled.


This story has been corrected to change a passenger’s name to Rowland Cheney, not Hal.

Wozniacka reported from Portland, Oregon. Associated Press writers Brett Zongker in Alexandria, Virginia, and Janie Har in San Francisco also contributed to this report.

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