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10 Dead in Tragic Puget Sound Labor Day Weekend Seaplane Crash

The de Havilland Otter was reported to crashed at high speed in a nose-down attitude

The accident airplane, a Northwest Seaplanes de Havilland DHC-3 Otter in 2016.
The accident airplane, a Northwest Seaplanes de Havilland DHC-3 Otter in 2016.

As usual, the Labor Day weekend saw a lot of general aviation flying activity, and as is also sadly true, there were also a number of fatal mishaps involving small planes, the most deadly of which was the crash on Sunday (September 4, 2022) of a single-engine de Havilland DHC-3 Otter float plane into the Puget Sound near Whidbey Island in Washington State. All 10 people aboard, including the pilot, lost their lives in the crash. The plane was operated by Northwest Seaplanes, a local charter operator with a good safety record. It purchased the plane, a  turboprop-converted 1967 model, in 2016 and had operated it incident free since then.

Among the dead was a civil rights activist Sandra Williams, who founded a Spokane-based newspaper, the Black Lens. Other passengers, authorities said, were Patricia Hicks, Sandra Williams, Lauren Hilty, Ross Mickel, Remy Mickel, Luke Ludwig, Rebecca Ludwig, Joanne Mera, Gabrielle Hanna and pilot Jason Winters.

Witnesses and flight tracking data agree that the plane plunged precipitously into the sound, from an altitude of around 700 feet. There was no reported distress call. Searchers have found all 10 bodies, and the plane is resting on the floor of the Sound at a depth of around 200 feet.

NTSB Investigators will have their work cut out for them in determining the cause of the crash. When a plane goes out of control suddenly and crashes nose down, the resulting impact is almost always unsurvivable, and the cause can be anything from structural failure of the airframe or flight control surfaces, pilot incapacitation or some human-commanded cause. Complicating the investigation will be the need to recover the plane from Puget Sound and the probable lack of flight recorders on the plane—small planes doing on-demand charter work aren’t required by the FAA to be equipped with such recorders.

A video showing the accident aircraft was posted by Northwest Seaplanes shortly after it purchased the plane.

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