A federal agency investigating a floatplane that capsized in the Gastineau Channel earlier this month said a hard landing preceded the partial separation of the plane's right float.
The five-passenger de Havilland Beaver, operated by Wings of Alaska, landed in the channel near Juneau Harbor at about 8:50 a.m. on July 12, turned on its side and sank.
Pilot Jim Williams, the sole person aboard the plane, was not injured in the incident. Williams was rescued by Wings of Alaska employees who picked him up in a skiff.
The preliminary report by National Transportation Safety Board investigator Larry Lewis, released recently, said Williams told the Federal Aviation Administration that as he approached the water surface he corrected for a slight tailwind, which he estimated at 5 knots, or about 6 mph.
Williams said the airplane touched down with the left float first. When the right float touched down, it dug in and the airplane bounced once or twice, Williams told the FAA.
The plane then came to rest with its right side low in the water and then the whole plane submerged, the report said.
An FAA air safety inspector said witnesses reported that the airplane landed hard, and bounced several times.
Though it is not unusual for one side of a floatplane to touch down before the other, it can lead to an accident when combined with heavy winds and rough waters, Lewis said in an interview.
NTSB is reviewing the wave and wind conditions at the time of the landing.
"If a pilot underestimates the strength or direction of the wind, that is going to affect the outcome of the landing," Lewis said.
He added that landing on water often is more difficult than on land because of the difficulty of judging the surface conditions.
"There are some optical illusions that come into play when landing on water," Lewis said, noting that light reflecting off the water can cause problems with depth perception.
Lewis said the ongoing floatplane investigation will include a review of the maintenance records for the plane and the training records of the pilot, as well as interviews with witnesses.
Lewis expects to have the report completed in the next 30 to 45 days.
Wings of Alaska officials could not be reached for comment by the Empire's midday deadline.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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