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Families of victims in deadly floatplane crash plan to conduct their own investigation

The NTSB was able to recover 6 bodies and 80% of the plane that crashed Sept 4th off Whidbey Island.

OAK HARBOR, Wash. — The families of the victims in a deadly floatplane crash off of Whidbey Island are planning to conduct their own investigation into what went wrong. 

Ten people were killed, including nine adults and one child when a floatplane took a nose dive and crashed into the water near Mutiny Bay. The plane took off from Friday Harbor as a scheduled commuter flight to the Renton Municipal Airport. The crash was reported around 3:10 p.m. 

Island County Emergency Management said six bodies have been recovered from the wreckage, with five of them positively identified. One of the bodies recovered has not yet been identified.

The body of one passenger, later identified as Gabbie Hanna, was previously recovered by a good Samaritan at the crash site.

The NTSB has been able to recover 80 percent of the plane and efforts will likely continue over the next few days. An attorney representing the victims' families said this is a crucial step towards bringing them closure.

“I think everyone continues to be absolutely devastated,” said Alisa Brodkowitz, an attorney at Schroeter Goldmark & Bender representing families of the victims.

“This has been a crash that really hits close to home,” said Brodkowitz.

Crews began recovering the wreckage Tuesday. The NTSB said it specifically recovered the engine, one wing, the propeller and gearbox. The plane did not have a flight data recorder. Brodkowitz said there's no regulation requiring that on this type of plane.

“We are all so grateful that the recovery has gone so well. Right now, we are paying attention to the parts that the NTSB has not recovered,” Brodkowitz said.

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The team still needs to recover one wing, a piece of the horizontal stabilizer and both elevators.

“It's possible that those are parts that departed the aircraft before the aircraft crashed, and played a causal role in the crash,” said Brodkowitz.

The NTSB said finding those components are critical to its investigation. 

Brodkowitz also represented victims' families in the 2019 Ethiopian airlines crash involving a Boeing 737 Max.

“I would ask that the NTSB work swiftly to get the wreckage returned to the families for the next steps in their own investigation, because the NTSB conclusions are not admissible in court, because those conclusions and that system relies on the manufacturers and carriers, not the families in the investigation,” Brodkowitz said.

Brodkowitz also questioned the integrity of the de Havilland DHC-3 Otter, the type of airplane involved in the crash.

The plane that crashed was built in 1967. King 5 found records that show the plane received an airworthiness certificate in May 2014, likely meaning the plane's owner, Northwest Seaplanes installed a new turboprop engine.

“You never ever want to see the same plane crash twice. This isn't the first Otter crash where the engine was piston, and then became a turbine engine in a conversion process, and then got a newer engine put on later on in its life,” Brodkowitz said.

A Facebook post from Northwest Seaplanes in November 2021 shows the Otter receiving its annual maintenance check-up.

Seaplane companies are heavily regulated by the FAA.

King 5 reached out to Northwest Seaplanes for comment but have not heard back.

Brodkowitz asked anyone who flew in the aircraft in the weeks leading up to the crash or witnessed something to reach out with information that could help the families.

Officials said determining the probable cause for the accident could take 12 to 24 months.

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