Crashed seaplane located off Whidbey Island by NTSB

The aircraft is under approximately 190 feet of water. The NTSB plans to use a remote-operated vehicle to help recover the wreckage.

ISLAND COUNTY, Wash. – The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has located the wreckage of a seaplane that crashed into Puget Sound near Whidbey Island in early September.

The seaplane was flying from Friday Harbor to Renton Municipal Airport on Sunday September 4 when reports say it nosed over and crashed into Mutiny Bay. All nine passengers on board and the pilot were killed.

The plane is in about 190 feet of water, according to an update of the NTSB. Due to the depth and speed of the current, which is three to five knots, the agency decided the best way to recover the wreckage was to use a remotely operated vehicle (ROV).

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory helped capture images via side-scan sonar and 3D instruments. The instruments are on a multi-sensor tow body, which the lab calls MuST.

MuST is generally used to study what is hidden under the sand. The Applied Physics Lab has been asked to use the machine to scan the depths of Mutiny Bay, director Kevin Williams said. MuST was placed 160° underwater.

“We could fly it about 30 feet above the bottom, and then we used a lot of the same sonar that NOAA would use, but we get it closer to all objects,” Williams said.

NOAA is working with local companies and federal agencies to obtain an ROV to recover the seaplane, which is well suited to operate in deep water.

“Their operating depth is mostly based on their design specs. The one we’re using is capable of 3,000 meters, or about 10,000 feet,” said Chuck McGuire of the Applied Physics Laboratory.

However, recovering the seaplane with an ROV could still be a challenge considering the underwater current.

“While the water is drained from the structure, it’s a lot of weight inside. If you move too fast, you may end up ripping the wings off or shifting the load or the plane could tear apart and fall back basically,” McGuire said.

According to the NTSB, some objects from the plane were recovered, including foam fragments from the plane’s floats, a seat cushion, a seat belt, shipping documents, remnants of flooring structure and some of the victims’ personal items.

The aircraft is a de Havilland DHC-3 Otter seaplane which was built in 1967.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records show that the aircraft received a certificate of airworthiness in May 2014, which probably means that the aircraft owner, Northwest Seaplanesinstalled a new turboprop.

A Facebook post of Northwest Seaplanes indicates that Otter has had an annual maintenance check.

Seaplane companies are heavily regulated by the FAA, according to former NTSB senior aviation safety investigator Gregory Feith. This is a regulatory level just below commercial airlines.

Seaplane Northwest is a sister company of Friday Harbor seaplanes. Feith said he was not aware of any violations in the company’s history.

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