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Alaska sightseeing planes collided at 3,300 feet before crashing

Two sightseeing planes that were carrying cruise ship passengers in Alaska collided on Monday at about 3,300 feet before they crashed, the National Transportation Safety Board has announced. In total, 10 people survived and six were found dead, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. 

Five of the dead were passengers and the sixth was a pilot.

Federal investigators said the larger plane, a de Havilland Otter DHC-3 with 10 passengers and its pilot, had descended from 3,800 feet and collided with a smaller de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver, which was carrying four passengers and the pilot. The planes came down about a mile and a half apart, with some of the debris falling on land near George Inlet, which is about 8 miles from the cruise ship port of Ketchikan. 

The Beaver, the smaller plane, appears to have broken apart in midair, according to Jerry Kiffer, duty incident commander of the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad. He said the plane's tail and section of the fuselage were 900 feet from the aircraft's floats, which landed near shore.

The smaller plane -- operated by Mountain Air Service of Ketchikan -- was partially submerged in the shore of George Inlet, according to Coast Guard Lt. Brian Dykens. The larger Otter -- operated by Taquan Air of Ketchikan -- landed in water and sank, he said. 

U.S. Coast Guard crew searches for survivors from downed aircraft in the vicinity of George Inlet near Ketchikan, Alaska
U.S. Coast Guard crew searches for survivors from downed aircraft in the vicinity of George Inlet near Ketchikan, Alaska, U.S., May 13, 2019.  Ryan Sinkey/U.S. Coast Guard/Handout via REUTERS

Alaska State Troopers identified the passengers who died as 46-year-old Louis Botha of San Diego, 56-year-old Simon Brodie from Temple, New South Wales, Australia, 62-year-old Cassandra Webb from St. Louis, 39-year-old Ryan Wilk from Utah and 37-year-old Elsa Wilk of Richmond, British Columbia, Canada. The pilot who died was 46-year-old Randy Sullivan of Ketchikan.   

A federal investigation into the cause of the crash could take months, but a preliminary report is expected to be released within two weeks, said Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the NTSB. Investigators say they plan to interview the surviving pilot, passengers and witnesses. 

"We'll be looking at pilot log books. We'll be look at training and qualifications of the pilots, any medical issues," said Jennifer Homendy, an NTSB board member. 

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