NTSB releases findings in 2022 Puget Sound seaplane crash

 October 8, 2023

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released its findings in a probe of a September 2022 seaplane crash that left 10 dead near Whidbey Island in Washington state, as the Associated Press reports.

According to investigators, a mechanical issue was to blame for the deadly descent into Mutiny Bay in Puget Sound.

Single component failure

NTSB investigators determined that a single element of the plane's flight control system suffered a failure, resulting in what was described as a “near-vertical” descent into the water.

Aiding in their probe was the fact that roughly 85% of the aircraft had been successfully pulled from the ocean floor within weeks of the deadly incident.

In the end, it was revealed that the plane's actuator – a mechanism that allows for adjustment of the craft's horizontal tail as well as of its pitch – had become disconnected before the crash.

As such, the plane was rendered uncontrollable by the pilot.

Aftermath of crash yields new precautions

The impacted plane was a de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter turboprop, which was destined for Renton – a suburb of Seattle – from a popular tourist spot known as Friday Harbor.

Sadly, the crash and subsequent sinking of the plane resulted in the deaths of the pilot as well as all nine passengers on board.

Speaking about the agency's findings, NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy observed, “The Mutiny Bay accident is an incredibly painful reminder that a single point of failure can lead to catastrophe in our skies.”

Not long after the incident occurred, the NTSB – already suspecting a faulty actuator – issued a recommendation that al DHC-3 plane operators conduct an inspection of their flight control systems, with the Federal Aviation Administration requiring such procedures soon after, and operators of these aircraft are now advised to install a secondary locking device to prevent a recurrence of this type of failure.

Tragic loss of life

As PBS noted, soon after the incident, the U.S. Coast Guard made the difficult decision to suspend the search for the crash victims' remains in the waters, though the body of one of the plane's occupants had been incidentally located outside of official recovery efforts.

The Coast Guard, clearly saddened by searchers' inability to locate passengers, declared, “All next of kin have been notified of this decision. Our hearts go out to the families, loved ones and friends of those who remain missing and the deceased.”

Ultimately, those killed in the crash were identified as pilot Jason Winters as well as passengers Sandy Williams, Ross Mickel, Lauren Hilty, Remy Mickel, Joanne Mera, Patricia Hicks, Rebecca Ludwig, Luke Ludwig, and Gabrielle Hanna.

Though litigation has reportedly been initiated by family members of the deceased seeking compensation from the seaplane charter operator as well as the plane's manufacturer, it seems certain that no amount of money will make up for the losses endured by those left behind.

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