Langley, Wash. — The Coast Guard on Monday suspended the search for the nine people missing after a floatplane crashed one day earlier in the Puget Sound north of Seattle.
The plane had 10 people, including a child, on board at the time of the crash. Good Samaritans and first responders arrived on the scene Sunday and recovered one deceased individual, the Coast Guard said.
"It is always difficult when it comes time to make a decision to stop searching," said Capt. Daniel Broadhurst, Incident Management Branch Chief for the 13th Coast Guard District, in a statement. "The hearts of all the first responders go out to those who lost a family member, a loved one or a friend in the crash."
The agency said in a press release the plane was flying from Friday Harbor, a popular tourist destination in the San Juan Islands, to Renton, a southern suburb of Seattle.
The plane went down in Mutiny Bay off Whidbey Island, roughly 30 miles northwest of downtown Seattle and about halfway between Friday Harbor and Renton.
The National Transportation Safety Board said the plane was a de Havilland DHC-3 Otter, a single-engine propeller plane.
The National Transportation Safety Board will be investigating the cause of the crash.
The Coast Guard learned through the seaplane company's owner that two Friday Harbor seaplanes took off Sunday afternoon and the owner was aboard one of the flights, Scott Giard, director of the U.S. Coast Guard's search and rescue for the Pacific Northwest, said at a news conference. The owner told authorities he saw the other plane divert slightly off course and he tried to make radio contact but was unable to.
"Shortly after that, he noticed on his flight tracker that the flight had stopped tracking and notified authorities," Giard said.
Officials received reports that "the aircraft dropped suddenly at a fair amount of speed and hit the water," Giard said. "We don't have any video or pictures of the incident as of this moment."
There was no distress call or distress beacon from the crashing plane, he said. The aircraft has an electronic locating transmitter onboard, but they have not received any transmission, he said.
"That is very typical in times where there is either a hard landing or a crash of an aircraft," he said.
Coast Guard searchers found "minimal debris," Giard said. By Monday afternoon, they had only found three to four long and narrow pieces of aluminum, very few personal items, a seat and some small pieces of foam, he said.
Without a clear picture of the actual crash, and not knowing whether it exploded on impact or immediately sank to the sea floor, 150 to 200 feet (45-60 meters) below, it's difficult to know what happened to the plane, he said.
Crews on board patrol boats had remained at the scene overnight, the Coast Guard said in a previous update. Aircraft searches were temporarily paused because of FAA restrictions but resumed along with boat crews on Monday morning.
In total, the Coast Guard said it had conducted 26 search sorties, searching 1,283 nautical miles of track line covering an area of approximately 2,100 square nautical miles.
Four Coast Guard vessels, a rescue helicopter and an aircraft were involved in the extensive search, along with nearby rescue and law enforcement agencies. Two vessels were to continue searching during the night and air patrols would resume at first light, the Coast Guard said late Sunday.
The crash was reported at 3:11 p.m.
Northwest Seaplanes is a family-owned business founded by Clyde Carlson, according to the company's website. It has 24-years of "accident and incident free flying," the website said.
The company's business office next to the seaplane dock at the Renton Municipal Airport remained closed behind fencing on Monday. The only visible activity was two people hugging near the front door. The only floatplane at the dock appeared to be a small private Cessna.
A woman who answered the phone early Monday said they're waiting to learn more and are devastated by the crash.
"It's a small crew. Everyone's close," said the woman, who would only give her first name, Michelle. She declined to say more.
The company posted a message on Facebook late Monday saying they were heartbroken.
"We don't know any details yet regarding the cause of the accident," the post said. "We are working with the FAA, NTSB and Coastguard. We have been in communication with the families. We are praying for the families involved, including our pilot and his family."
The Northwest Seaplanes website says its sister company Friday Harbor Seaplanes operates daily flights to and from their Renton base and the San Juan Islands, a scenic archipelago northwest of Seattle that draws tourists from around the world.
Floatplanes, which have pontoons allowing them to land on water, are a common sight around Puget Sound, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean. There are multiple, daily flights between the Seattle area and the San Juan Islands, a scenic archipelago northwest of Seattle that draws tourists from around the world.
These aircraft, which also fly between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia, frequently travel over Seattle and land in Lake Washington, not far from the city's iconic Space Needle.
Renton, where authorities say the flight was headed Sunday, is at the southern tip of Lake Washington, about 10 miles southeast of Seattle.
In 2019, akilled six people. The Ketchikan-based floatplanes were carrying passengers from the same cruise ship, the Royal Princess, and were returning from tours of Misty Fjords National Monument.
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