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Coast guard suspends search for 9 missing people after floatplane crashes in Puget Sound

One person was killed and nine others remain missing after a floatplane crashed in Mutiny Bay west of Whidbey Island Sunday afternoon. A child was on board.

ISLAND COUNTY, Wash. — The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) suspended the search Monday for nine people who remain missing after a floatplane crashed near Whidbey Island.

At least one person, whose body was recovered Sunday by a good Samaritan, was killed.

“It is always difficult when it comes time to make a decision to stop searching,” said Capt. Daniel Broadhurst, incident management branch chief for the 13th Coast Guard District.

The plane was flying from Friday Harbor, a popular tourist destination in the San Juan Islands, to Renton Municipal Airport when the crash was reported at 3:10 p.m., according to the Coast Guard. The plane crashed in Mutiny Bay off Whidbey Island, roughly 30 miles northwest of downtown Seattle and about halfway between Friday Harbor and Renton. Data posted on Flight Aware shows the plane last observed near Oak Harbor, which was 18 minutes into what is normally a 50-minute flight.

The floatplane didn't send a distress call, according to the Coast Guard.

Officials said nine adults and one child were aboard the aircraft. It is not known if the one confirmed death was the child or an adult.

The one recovered body was a female, according to USCG.

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The plane that crashed was a de Havilland DHC-3 Otter, a single-engine propeller plane, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The plane was operated by Friday Harbor Seaplanes, which is a service owned by Northwest Seaplanes.

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.

A woman who answered the business' phone early Monday said they're waiting to learn more and are devastated by the crash.

“It's a small crew. Everyone's close,” the woman, who would only give her first name, Michelle, told the Associated Press. She declined to say more.

On Monday afternoon, Northwest Seaplanes released a statement regarding the crash:

"The team at Northwest Seaplanes is heartbroken, we don’t know any details yet regarding the cause of the accident. We are working with the FAA, NTSB and Coast Guard. We have been in communication with the families. We are praying for the families involved, including our pilot and his family."

Credit: Joe G. Walker
A file image of the de Havilland DHC-3 Otter that crashed in Mutiny Bay near Whidbey Island on Sept. 4, 2022.

Officials said Sunday night that crews recovered some wreckage, including intact items from inside the plane and a piece that had the tail number of the involved plane. The Coast Guard said Monday morning that crews searched throughout the night, “but no additional individuals were recovered."

Scott Giard, Director of Search and Rescue with the Coast Guard, said they have found "very little of the aircraft." They have found about four pieces of aluminum, a plane seat and a small number of personal items they believe belonged to people who were on board. 

Giard said more pieces of debris are expected to wash up on or near the shore in the coming days. He urged anyone who thinks they have spotted debris to report it to the Island County Sheriff's Office or NTSB.

There's no known cause of the crash at this time, but witnesses described it quickly descending into the water, according to South Whidbey Fire.

Scott Hamilton, a Seattle-area aviation expert with decades of experience consulting airlines, said investigators will look at a number of possible factors, including whether the pilot had medical issues, passenger backgrounds, if there were maintenance issues on the plane and weather conditions at the time of the crash.

Floatplanes have pontoons and are designed to land on water, unless something went wrong, according to Hamilton.

"If there had been ample warning, it is possible that the plane could have made an emergency landing on the water," Hamilton said.

The planes are a common sight around Puget Sound. There are multiple, daily flights between the Seattle area and the San Juan Islands. These aircraft, which also fly between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia, frequently travel over Seattle and land on Lake Washington and Lake Union, not far from the city's iconic Space Needle.

Four Coast Guard vessels, a rescue helicopter and an aircraft were involved in the extensive search Sunday, along with nearby rescue and law enforcement agencies. Additional resources continued the search Monday morning before the Coast Guard suspended the search at noon.  

During its search efforts, the Coast Guard conducted 26 search sorties and searched 1,283 nautical miles of track line covering about 2,100 square nautical miles.

In addition to the Coast Guard resources, marine units from South Whidbey Fire, North Whidbey Fire, Kitsap County Fire and Everett Fire also responded. Search and rescue resources from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island also responded.

The NTSB is sending a team of seven to investigate the crash. The Coast Guard plans to help the NTSB continue to search for wreckage Monday afternoon using a drone and underwater remotely operated vehicle. 

This is a developing story. Check back for updates. 

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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