NTSB report into 2018 floatplane crash raises oversight concerns

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska In July of 2018, a floatplane operated by Taquan Air crashed high in the mountains near Ketchikan with 11 people on board, leading to serious injuries for six passengers.

Two Coast Guard Air Station Sitka MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crews rescue 11 people after a float plane crashed 39 miles south southwest of Ketchikan, Alaska, on Prince of Wales Island, July 10, 2018. All 11 people were taken to a staging area nearby for further transfer to Ketchikan. (From U.S. Coast Guard)

On Thursday, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a factual report of the crash, describing that pilot Mikes Hudgins, 71 at the time, had flown into heavy rain and clouds before crashing into a mountain.

Passengers on board the plane told the NTSB that there was “serious fog” during the flight and expressed concern about visibility.
The NTSB report raises questions about how Taquan Air was being operated at the time of the crash and who had the authority to cancel flights because of bad weather.

At the time of the crash, the operations director for Taquan Air was based out of Anchorage and was also working as the director of operations for Grant Aviation. Employees told the NTSB that he visited Taquan Air's Ketchikan base “about once a month but was available by phone, if necessary.”

With the operations director not present, the NTSB describes that no one in Ketchikan had the ultimate authority to cancel a flight.

As a result of the operations director being based in Anchorage, Taquan Air’s chief pilot had assumed a large number of his responsibilities. “He said both positions could be accomplished by one person during the wintertime, but it was more difficult during the summer months,” the NTSB report detailed.

Clint Johnson, the chief of the regional NTSB, said in his 22 years at the agency he couldn’t personally remember a time when an operations director would be working in the same position at a different company.

“I’m sure it’s probably been done in the past, but I personally don’t recall anything like this,” he said. “Keep in mind, these are two pretty good-sized operations, these are not one ship operations.”

According to the NTSB report, the FAA was made aware on “multiple occasions” that the director of operations for Taquan Air was also working for Grant Aviation.

FAA regulations bar an operations director working for two such companies at the same time. A representative for the FAA said Thursday afternoon the agency had just received the NTSB’s report and could not immediately comment.

Taquan Air’s then-operations director told NTSB investigators on July 10, 2018 that he was planning to leave the company at the end of the season. In the meantime, he worked remotely while Taquan Air looked for a replacement.

“My understanding was, it's much better to have you in that position doing what you do rather than have nobody in that position. And that was the FAA's position,” he told NTSB investigators.

Brian Salazar, the CEO of Taquan Air, told NTSB investigators in July of 2018 that a new operations director was starting soon at the company. Representatives for Taquan Air did not immediately respond to a request for comment about how operations had changed since the 2018 crash.

In 2019, Taquan Air had two deadly crashes within a week of each other. A midair collision near Ketchikan saw six passengers killed, one week later, two people died in a floatplane crash near Metlakatla.

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