ANCHORAGE, Alaska >> An Alaska air carrier involved in two deadly floatplane crashes in a week has voluntarily suspended operations, federal officials said today.
The halt of flightseeing and commuter flights is in place indefinitely, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
The action comes after the passenger and the pilot of a Beaver floatplane operated by Taquan Air were killed when the single-engine aircraft crashed in Metlakatla Harbor on Monday afternoon during a 22-mile (35-kilometer) commuter flight from Ketchikan.
Taquan Air officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The passenger was identified by her employer and relatives in California as Sarah Luna. The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium said in a statement that Luna joined the group nearly a year ago as a senior epidemiologist in the liver disease and hepatitis program. Luna, 32, had flown to Metlakatla to provide health services to the community.
“Sarah embodied the characteristics most valuable to our team, as a person committed to improving the health and well-being of Alaska Native people,” the organization wrote. “For those who worked most closely with Sarah, this loss is immeasurable.”
The pilot’s name was not immediately released.
Witnesses reported the crash occurred during landing at the community’s seaplane base, said Clint Johnson, chief of the National Transportation Safety Board in Alaska. NTSB investigators were heading to southeast Alaska, he said. The plane also was carrying a load of cargo and was supposed to also pick up other passengers after landing.
Johnson said it was “way too early” to determine a cause.
Monday’s crash followed the May 13 midair collision of a Taquan Air Beaver floatplane with another floatplane. Six people died in that crash and another 10 people were injured. Both planes were carrying sightseeing cruise ship passengers.
Johnson said the NTSB is investigating both crashes as separate cases.
Last summer, all 11 on board another Taquan Air flight survived when the 72-year-old pilot confused snow on a mountain with a body of water and crashed on a rocky mountainside on Prince of Wales Island near the southern tip of the Alaska Peninsula.
A pilot and eight cruise ship passengers died June 25, 2015, when a de Havilland DHC-3 Otter operated by Promech Air Inc. crashed into mountainous terrain about 24 miles (38 kilometers) from Ketchikan, also as it was returning from Misty Fjords.
The NTSB later determined that pilot error, the company’s culture and lack of a formal safety program were among the causes of that crash. Taquan Air purchased the assets of Promech in 2016, and currently employs three pilots who worked for Promech, a company spokeswoman said last week.