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Plane flips on channel

Wings of Alaska pilot - the sole occupant - is unhurt

Posted: Friday, July 12, 2002

A Wings of Alaska floatplane capsized in Gastineau Channel near the mouth of Gold Creek this morning shortly after landing in Juneau Harbor. The plane's only occupant, pilot Jim Williams, who apparently was uninjured, was rescued by Wings employees who rushed to the floatplane in a skiff.

Williams had piloted the five-passenger de Havilland Beaver from the floatplane pond at the Juneau Airport to Juneau Harbor, where he planned to taxi to the staging dock behind Merchants Wharf.

Around 8:40 a.m. the plane landed about 100 feet from the mouth of the creek, Wings President Rusty Shaub told the Empire.

After touching down a few hundred yards short of the dock, the plane remained upright for a few minutes before it capsized, said Shaub. Williams radioed for help after the plane landed. Though Shaub said it looked as if one of the pontoon floats had detached, the exact cause of the plane capsizing is unknown.

Onlookers Kevin and Kelly Warner were walking on the Douglas Bridge when they witnessed the incident.

"We heard the plane's power cutting out and it looked as though he was coming in for a touch-and-go landing," said Kevin Warner. "It was real windy on the bridge so I figure a gust must have caught his right wing because the next thing you know he was coming in and his left wing just went in the water and sucked the rest of the plane down with it.

"We didn't think the crash was extremely serious ... there was no big splash or crash ... We couldn't see anyone get out of the plane and we were worried whoever was on the plane would be trapped in there under water."

Two Coast Guard boats, a rescue boat from the cruise ship Norwegian Wind and the Wings skiff reached the plane within minutes.

Bystander Tom Cosgrove said he watched the rescue while walking downtown near the Prospector Hotel.

"Once it was in the water it just started slowly sinking," Cosgrove said of the floatplane. "I didn't see anyone and the next thing I knew I saw the pilot come out of the cab and climb onto the pontoon as it was sinking."

Williams stayed on the pontoon, the only part of the plane above water, until the skiff reached him.

"He's not even wet," said Shaub. "He wasn't hurt, but he's real excited right now and in the process of doing some procedural things we do like drug testing and things of that sort. We haven't been able to find out much from him about what happened. Once we get him settled down we should know more."

Shaub said a diver with a private diving company was expected to retrieve the $250,000 plane from the water sometime today. He said he expects the plane will be salvageable.

Police said the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board will be investigating.

Melanie Plenda can be reached at mplenda@juneauempire.com.



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