A man from Maryland is dead and his child is in critical condition after a floatplane accident near the mouth of Tutka Bay, across Kachemak Bay from Homer, on Friday morning.
Joseph Patanella, 57, was found dead on arrival to South Peninsula Hospital just before noon Friday, according to Alaska State Troopers and SPH Spokesperson Derotha Ferraro. He, his wife and his three children were aboard the de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver floatplane along with an adult male relative when it suffered an unknown accident while trying to take off near Tutka Bay.
Petty Officer Amanda Norcross with the U.S. Coast Guard 17th District said representatives of Tutka Bay Lodge reported the accident to the Coast Guard. The family was staying at the lodge as guests, the Associated Press reported.
“Initial reports, they stated that the aircraft was conducting a departure in the middle of the (Tutka) bay,” Norcross said.
The plane then “aborted the takeoff,” she said, and never actually left the water, according to what was reported to the Coast Guard.
Alaska State Troopers responded along with members of the Homer Volunteer Fire Department in the trooper patrol vessel Augustine and removed the six passengers and pilot from the plane. Once transported back to the Homer Harbor, they were all taken to South Peninsula Hospital by ambulances from HVFD, Anchor Point Emergency Services and Kachemak Emergency Services.
Patanella’s wife was flown to Providence Medical Center in Anchorage with two of their children, one of whom troopers said is in critical condition. The third child was treated and released from the hospital, according to Ferraro. The plane’s pilot, Engjell Berisha, was also treated and released.
The adult male relative was injured in the accident and remains in stable condition at the hospital, Ferraro said in an email.
Chris Fischer, a Homer resident, was riding his bike on the Homer Spit at the time when local ambulances responded. He said he and others heard sirens while they were on the back side of the Homer Harbor, and saw ambulances staging near the harbor’s load and launch ramp.
“We figured something bad must have happened,” Fischer said.
Fischer said he waited at a bench near the ramp, and later saw a boat come in carrying passengers from the plane.
“All of a sudden there was a rush of activity,” he said. “… A boat came tearing in (to the harbor).”
Fischer said he saw at least five people taken off the boat and transported away by ambulance.
“It was an impressive display from the first responders,” he said.
The de Havilland Beaver is owned by Rust’s Flying Service in Anchorage. The company provides flying tours, bear viewing and transportation for fishing trips, and is the “oldest and largest seaplane operator” on Anchorage’s Lake Hood, according to its website.
Rust’s Flying Service has suspended operations in the wake of the accident and is cooperating with authorities, according to a joint statement the company release last Friday evening along with Tutka Bay Lodge.
“We are devastated by the new of the loss of life suffered in this incident,” the joint statement reads. “Our hearts go out to our guests and their family. Our focus is on assisting our guests, their family and loved ones, the pilot, our staffs and first responders during this active crisis response. We’d also like to extend our heartfelt thanks to the first responders, the Homer Volunteer Fire Department, Anchor Point Emergency Services, Kachemak Emergency Services and the community of Homer for their support and rescue efforts.”
In a separate statement to their agents, Tutka Bay Lodge representatives wrote that the company has partnered with Rust’s Flying Service for 40 years and that this is the first air incident and fatality Tutka Bay Lodge has experienced.
An investigation into the accident is ongoing, according to troopers. The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration are also investigating, according to the joint statement..
This is the second small aircraft accident in the Homer area in a month. A private Piper PA32 carrying five people crashed into a lagoon near the Seldovia Airport on July 6. No one was injured in that crash.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org.