Coast Guard ends search for nine missing in floatplane crash off Whidbey Island

Port Angeles station sends crew during rescue efforts

A U.S. Coast Guard boat and Kitsap County Sheriff boat search the area Monday near Freeland on Whidbey Island north of Seattle where a chartered floatplane crashed the day before. The plane was carrying 10 people and was en route from Friday Harbor to Renton. (Stephen Brashear/The Associated Press)

A U.S. Coast Guard boat and Kitsap County Sheriff boat search the area Monday near Freeland on Whidbey Island north of Seattle where a chartered floatplane crashed the day before. The plane was carrying 10 people and was en route from Friday Harbor to Renton. (Stephen Brashear/The Associated Press)

WHIDBEY ISLAND — U.S. Coast Guard Port Angeles was one of several units that responded to a floatplane crash just outside Whidbey Island before the search was suspended Monday afternoon.

Coast Guard Port Angeles responded with a 45-foot RB-M crew boat.

The Northwest Seaplane DHC-3 Turbine Otter was one of two planes flying from Friday Harbor to its base in Renton with 10 passengers aboard the floatplane, nine adults and one child.

The body of an unidentified female was recovered by a good Samaritan on Sunday after the crash was reported at 3:11 p.m., Scott Giard, director of the U.S. Coast Guard’s search and rescue for the Pacific Northwest, said at a new conference.

Crews searched throughout the night and the better part of Monday before they called off the search about 1:30 p.m.

“No additional individuals were recovered and no debris was spotted,” Coast Guard spokesman William Colclough said.

“All next of kin have been notified of this decision,” the Coast Guard said via Twitter. “Our hearts go out to the families, loved ones, and friends of those who remain missing and the deceased.”

The search covered 2,100 nautical miles, or 2,800 square miles.

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, Giard said. 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.

Jon Gabelein of South Whidbey Fire/EMS told KOMO witnesses on the shore reported seeing the plane “nose dive into the water.”

Whidbey Island resident Jeff Brewny and his wife were walking their dog Sunday when they heard a loud boom.

“First thought was thunder. It was that loud,” he said. “There was no flash like you get with lightning. So, you know, I thought it was a boat exploded. It was that devastating. My dog went crazy.”

The National Transportation Safety Board said Monday that they’re sending a team of seven to investigate the crash of the DHC-3 Turbine Otter.

The cause of the crash is unknown, authorities 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 below, it’s difficult to know what happened to the plane, he said.

Four Coast Guard vessels, a rescue helicopter and an aircraft had been involved in the extensive search, along with nearby rescue and law enforcement agencies.

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.”

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Reporter Ken Park contributed to this story.

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