Victims of floatplane crash included activist, winemaker

Victims of floatplane crash included activist, winemaker
AP Photo/Stephen Brashear
A pair of U.S. Coast Guard vessels search the area, Monday, Sept. 5, 2022, near Freeland, Wash., on Whidbey Island north of Seattle where a chartered floatplane crashed the day before. The plane was en route from Friday Harbor, Wash., to Renton, Wash.

WHIDBEY ISLAND, Wash. (AP) – A civil rights activist, a business owner, a lawyer, an engineer and the founder of a winery and his family were on the floatplane that crashed in the waters of Washington state’s Puget Sound, killing 10.

The U.S. Coast Guard released the names of the crash victims early Tuesday. The body of one of the dead was recovered by a good Samaritan after Sunday afternoon’s crash. The other nine remain missing despite an extensive search.

The Northwest Seaplanes flight was on its way from Friday Harbor, a popular tourist destination in the San Juan Islands, to a Seattle suburb when it went down without sending out a distress call. The cause of the crash was not immediately known, but the Federal Aviation Administration earlier this year issued a safety directive for the type of aircraft involved.

The dead include pilot Jason Winters, activist Sandy Williams, winemaker Ross Andrew Mickel, his pregnant wife Lauren Hilty and their child Remy Mickel. Also killed were passengers Joanne Mera, Patricia Hicks, Luke Ludwig, Rebecca Ludwig and Gabrielle Hanna. The Coast Guard did not provide hometowns.

Williams, from Spokane, Washington, was a lecturer, filmmaker, founder of the Carl Maxey Center and editor of The Black Lens, an African American-focused newspaper.

“Sandy was a voice for the voiceless, a tireless advocate for marginalized people in Spokane, a journalist unafraid to speak truth to power, a builder of hope in her vision for the Carl Maxey Center, and a beloved friend to countless members of our community,” The Spokane County Human Rights Task Force said on Facebook.

Thayne McCulloh, president of Gonzaga University, said the community lost a leader, teacher, activist and powerful voice.

Also from Spokane, Hicks was a retired teacher.

Mickel was the founder of the Ross Andrew Winery in Woodinville, Washington.

“We are deeply saddened and beyond devastated at the loss of our beloved Ross Mickel, Lauren Hilty, Remy and their unborn baby boy, Luca,” the Mickel and Hilty families said in a statement. “Our collective grief is unimaginable. They were a bright and shining light in the lives of everyone who knew them.”

The Washington State Wine Commission said in an email that Ross had “an incredible impact on the Washington wine community” and will be greatly missed.

Mera was a business owner from San Diego, The Seattle Times reported. Her niece, Sami Sullivan, said she was visiting family in Seattle when the crash occurred. She leaves behind three children and a husband of more than 30 years, Sullivan said.

“Joanne Mera was someone everyone gravitated towards,” Sullivan said in a statement. “She was the life of any party and the soul of our family. She was the best mom, wife, sister and friend.”

The Ludwigs, a couple from Minnesota, also perished in the crash. Luke Ludwig was an engineering leader with Arizona-based HomeLight Home Loans.

“The entire HomeLight team extends our deepest sympathies to both Luke and Becca’s families, friends, and loved ones,” the company said in an email. “Luke was a deeply devoted father, husband, outdoorsman, and coach for his kids’ sports teams, known for his remarkable kindness and generous spirit.”

Seattle lawyer Gabby Hanna was returning from a friend’s wedding when the plane went down, The Seattle Times reported.

“She was a fierce, fierce young woman, in the best of ways,” her father, Dave von Beck, said in an interview Tuesday. “There are no words to describe the pain. Her family loved her very much.”

The Coast Guard ended the search for survivors Monday afternoon. The plane went down in Mutiny Bay off Whidbey Island, about halfway between Friday Harbor and its destination in Renton.

The owner of the seaplane company was aboard one of two flights that took off on Sunday, Scott Giard, director of the U.S. Coast Guard’s search and rescue for the Pacific Northwest, said at a news conference.

The owner told authorities he saw the other plane divert slightly off course and he tried to make radio contact but was unable to.

“Shortly after that, he noticed on his flight tracker that the flight had stopped tracking and notified authorities,” Giard said.

Officials received reports that “the aircraft dropped suddenly at a fair amount of speed and hit the water,” Giard said. “We don’t have any video or pictures of the incident as of this moment.”

There was no distress call or distress beacon from the crashing plane, he said. The aircraft has an electronic locating transmitter onboard, but they have not received any transmission.

A team from the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash of the DHC-3 Otter, but had not released any information by Tuesday afternoon.

Steven Wallace, former director of FAA Office Accident Investigations, said the NTSB will look at all other accidents with this type of aircraft, any safety directives and the company’s maintenance records as it tries to learn why the plane hit the water.

“Early in the investigation every possibility is on the table,” Wallace said.

One accident that will be of interest is the 2019 crash of the same model of floatplane in Manitoba, Canada, he said. A DHC-3 Otter with a pilot and two passengers was headed to Family Lake when the plane’s right wing came off. The aircraft took a nosedive into the lake, killing everyone onboard, according to the accident report.

Following the lead of Canadian authorities, the FAA issued an Airworthiness Directive for these planes in March that required inspections of lugs, bolts and plates to ensure the wing strut is secure, according to the agency’s order.

“Failure of a wing strut could result in a catastrophic in-flight breakup of the wing,” the report said.

Coast Guard searchers found “minimal debris,” Giard said. By Monday afternoon, they had only found three to four long and narrow pieces of aluminum, very few personal items, a seat and some small pieces of foam.

Without a clear picture of the actual crash, and not knowing whether it exploded on impact or immediately sank to the sea floor, 150 to 200 feet (45-60 meters) below, it’s difficult to know what happened to the plane, he said.

Northwest Seaplanes is a family owned business founded by Clyde Carlson, according to the company’s website. The company posted a message on Facebook late Monday saying they are heartbroken.

“We don’t know any details yet regarding the cause of the accident,” the post said. “We are working with the FAA, NTSB and Coastguard. We have been in communication with the families. We are praying for the families involved, including our pilot and his family.”

Bellisle reported from Renton, Washington.

The Associated PressThe Associated Press

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