NTSB investigates site of floatplane crash that killed 9 in Alaska

A team of aviation investigators is 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, 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 Saturday morning and were searching for clues to the disaster, said Clint Johnson, head of the NTSB's Alaska office.

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

Johnson said the airplane's wings and tail broke off during impact, but the fuselage was largely intact. Officials said the plane crashed about 25 miles from Ketchikan on a cliff, 800 feet above Ella Lake in steep, muddy terrain.

As for the possible cause of the crash, "it's way too early to speculate," Johnson said. "We can't speculate out of respect to the families."

The victims' remains were flown off the mountain on Friday. Eight were passengers on the Holland America Line ship Westerdam, docked in Ketchikan at the time. Their seven-day cruise had departed from Seattle on June 20.

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

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