ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The pilot involved in the fatal crash of a small sightseeing plane in Alaska reported fog and rain in the area, but an investigator said Friday that it is too soon to say if weather was the cause of the accident.
“You want to do a thorough investigation and it takes time to complete a thorough investigation,” National Transportation Safety Board investigator Brice Banning said.
Banning said he interviewed the pilot Thursday and was told there was fog along mountain ridges, as well as some rain showers, when the plane crashed into the side of a steep, wooded mountain near Petersburg on Tuesday. Banning said he still needs to interview the five other survivors and was hoping to do so on Friday.
Banning said the pilot told him there were no mechanical problems with the plane, one of three areas investigations focus on. The other two areas are the pilot and the weather.
Seven people were aboard the Pacific Wings de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver when it went down. One passenger, 66-year-old Thomas L. Rising of Santa Fe, N.M., died in the crash.
The other passengers are members of a Pennsylvania family, the Rev. Frank Allen, 54, rector of St. David's Episcopal Church in Wayne, Pa.; his wife Amy, 54; and their sons: Will, 24; Rob, 21; and Ben, 19.
Amy and Ben Allen were seriously injured in the crash and flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Both were listed in satisfactory condition Friday, hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg said.
Responders have said one of the two had a broken back and the other a broken leg, but Gregg has declined to say what the injuries are.
The pilot and the other three passengers sustained minor injuries.
The Allens, who are declining to give media interviews, were on a cruise line expedition for alumni of Duke University and the flight was among excursions offered. Ben Allen is a student at Duke, in Durham, N.C., and the other family members are alumni, according to Michael Penn, a spokesman for the Duke Alumni Association.
A Coast Guard helicopter crew rescued the survivors from the 1,000-foot level several hours after the crash, Banning said. Rising's body was recovered from the wreckage of the single-engine floatplane on Wednesday night, June 5.
Banning also went to the site to conduct an onsite inspection. He said the insurance company for the plane is arranging for the removal of the wreckage to transport it to Petersburg, where Banning will inspect it again.
The six passengers were part of an expedition run by Lindblad Expeditions, a travel company that offers the eight-day cruise aboard the 62-passenger Sea Bird in an alliance with National Geographic.
The Allens were among 27 people on the cruise as part of Duke's alumni travel program, according to Penn.