A deadly mid-air collision, on Monday May 13, 2019, between two floatplanes carrying Princess Cruises passengers on a popular shore excursion in Alaska resulted in the tragic deaths of 6 people and the injury of 10. The two planes were carrying a total of 14 passengers from the Royal Princess cruise ship during the ship’s call in Ketchikan, Alaska. The ship was sailing on a seven-day “Voyage of the Glaciers” cruise that left Vancouver, British Columbia, on May 11 and was scheduled to arrive in Anchorage on May 18. The planes collided over George Inlet near Ketchikan in the early afternoon.
One plane, a DHC-3T Turbine Otter operated by Taquan Air, was carrying 10 passengers and a pilot on an excursion sold through the cruise line. It was returning from a tour of Misty Fjords, a national monument and wilderness area. Ten of those on the plane, including nine passengers and the pilot were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard, and one passenger died. The ten survivors were admitted to PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center, some with serious injuries.
The National Transportation Safety Board identified the other plane as a DHC-2 Beaver owned by Mountain Air Service. That plane was carrying four passengers and one pilot all of whom perished. In a statement following the accident, Princess Cruises indicated the four passengers on the second plane were on an “independent tour” presumably not purchased directly from the cruise line. Princess Cruises also reported it activated its Princess Care Team employees to assist the families impacted. Fatalities from the accident included American, Canadian and Australian passengers.
The circumstances of the collisions remain unknown at this time and are being investigated by authorities. In the meantime, in a statement released by Taquan Air, the company stated it has “suspended all scheduled flights and is cooperating fully with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other authorities to examine every aspect of this event,.”
Unfortunately, this tragic event is not the first time a plane carrying cruise passengers has crashed near Ketchikan. In June 2015, a pilot and eight passengers died when a de Havilland DHC-3 Otter operated by Promech Air Inc. crashed into mountainous terrain about 24 miles from Ketchikan. The NTSB later determined that pilot error and lack of a formal safety program were behind the crash. Taquan purchased Promech the following year. The Associated Press reported in 2007 another crash involving Taquan Air floatplane when its pilot and four sightseers were killed in a crash over the mountains of Misty Fiords near Ketchikan.
When such shore excursion accidents occur, passengers have legal recourse against the tour operator and the cruise line for their injuries and the deaths of their loved ones. Despite the cruise line’s disclaimer of liability for accidents that occur off the ship, a cruise line could be found liable when it sells the shore excursions and fails take appropriate measures to investigate the tour operator for operational safety. Navigating this complex area of law requires the expertise of an experienced maritime attorney. Should you or your loved ones need assistance, contact us for a free consultation.