Coast Guard Releases Names of Floatplane Accident Victims

Names of floatplane accident victims released, search for wreckage called off.

The U.S. Coast Guard has released the names of the victims of Sunday’s floatplane accident off Whidbey Island near Seattle. The nine adults and one child are presumed dead. The pilot was Jason Winter. The nine passengers have been identified as Patricia Hicks, Sandra Williams, Lauren Hilty, Ross Mickel, Luke Ludwig, Rebecca Ludwig, Joanne Mera, Gabriella Hanna, and a child, Remy Mickel. They were aboard the 1967 de Havilland DHC-3 Turbine Otter that crashed in Mutiny Bay halfway between Friday Harbor and Renton. 

The search for survivors was called off at noon Monday. The bulk of the wreckage has not been located; however, some personal items believed to have come from the aircraft cabin and a 6-foot-by-18-inch piece of the fuselage with the aircraft tail number, N725TH, were recovered. The aircraft is registered to Northwest Seaplanes, a Part 135 charter and sightseeing company. 

Northwest Seaplanes is a family-owned business that was founded by Clyde Carlson in 1988. The aircraft was en route to Renton. Floatplanes fly between Renton and the San Juan Islands on a regular basis. 

Witnesses to the accident told officials that the aircraft dove straight into the water. Shortly after the crash, the body of a woman was recovered from the water by good samaritans. The body is in the possession of the coroner pending positive identification. 

The Coast Guard searched the area for more than 20 hours, from both the air and water hoping for survivors, but none were found. The average temperature of the water in the Puget Sound is roughly 54 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The Coast Guard estimates a person can survive in such temperatures for no more than a few hours.

Witnesses described the weather at the time of the accident as “very windy.” One witness told a local television station that a floatplane trying to land on the water probably would have had damage to the floats.

There are no reports of the pilot issuing a distress call.

During a press conference Monday afternoon, a Coast Guard spokesperson said the decision to call off the search was a painful one, and was made only after the next of kin were notified.

As part of the search efforts, submersible search units were lowered into the water and the cellphones of the passengers were pinged, yet the wreckage was not found. 

According to a tweet from the U.S. Coast Guard, “Coast Guard assets completed 26 search sorties covering 1,283 linear nautical miles and saturating an area of more than 2100 sq. nautical miles.”

What Happened

According to a tweet from Flightradar24, the last ADS-B signal from the aircraft was received at 22:08 UTC and the aircraft was showing a descent of 7,744 fpm. The altitude normally flown by Turbine Otters along this route is approximately 600 feet above the surface.

Whidbey Island has many homes along the beach. The Coast Guard is asking the public to notify them if they see an oil slick in the water or find wreckage. 

The accident came at the end of a busy weekend for the aircraft. shows the aircraft made several trips from Renton Municipal Airport (KRNT), south of Seattle, to the San Juan Islands to the north. Because the aircraft was equipped with amphibious floats, it could operate from either water or land runways.

On Sunday, September 4 at 9:33 a.m., the aircraft took off from KRNT bound for Roche Harbor (WA09), according to the Coast Guard, though the seaplane base there is W39. The aircraft returned to KRNT, then departed for Windsock (4WA4) on Lopez Island, then to Friday Harbor, back to Roche Harbor, returned to Friday Harbor, and then launched on the accident flight back to Renton.

The aircraft’s last takeoff was from Friday Harbor at 2:50 p.m. local time Sunday. Its last ADS-B report was 18 minutes later near Oak Harbor. The Coast Guard reports the aircraft went down off Whidbey Island, approximately 34 nm northwest of Seattle. 

Northwest Seaplanes posted on its Facebook page: “The team at Northwest Seaplanes is heartbroken, we don’t know any details yet regarding the cause of the accident. We are working with the FAA, NTSB, and [Coast Guard]. We have been in communication with the families. We are praying for the families involved, including our pilot and his family.”

FLYING’s attempts to reach the company for comment were unsuccessful. A team from the National Transportation Safety Board arrived in Seattle Monday night. The investigation is expected to take one year to 18 months.

Meg Godlewski has been an aviation journalist for more than 24 years and a CFI for more than 20 years. If she is not flying or teaching aviation, she is writing about it. Meg is a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture and excels at the application of simulation technology to flatten the learning curve. Follow Meg on Twitter @2Lewski.

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