Anchorage, May 22 (AP/UNB) — An Alaska air carrier involved in two deadly floatplane crashes in a week has voluntarily suspended operations, federal officials said Tuesday.
The halt of flightseeing and commuter flights is in place indefinitely, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
The action comes after the passenger and the pilot of a Beaver floatplane operated by Taquan Air were killed when the single-engine aircraft crashed in Metlakatla Harbor on Monday afternoon during a 22-mile (35-kilometer) commuter flight from Ketchikan.
Witnesses reported to federal investigators that one of the two floats on the plane dug into the water during landing, causing the right wing to hit the water and then the aircraft to cartwheel several times, according to Clint Johnson, chief of the National Transportation Safety Board in Alaska.
Johnson said witnesses also reported the Beaver floatplane landed upside down and became submerged in water. An NTSB investigator arrived at Metlakatla late Tuesday morning, he said.
In a statement, Taquan Air confirmed it suspended all operations. The company said it "was reeling" from not only Monday's crash, but a midair collision last week involving another Taquan plane that killed six.
"It's been a really heavy and heartbreaking time for us," the company wrote. "Our priority has been our passengers and their families and our internal staff, and pilots."
The passenger was identified by her employer and relatives in California as Sarah Luna. The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium said in a statement that Luna joined the group nearly a year ago as a senior epidemiologist in the liver disease and hepatitis program. Luna, 32, had flown to Metlakatla to provide health services to the community.
"Sarah embodied the characteristics most valuable to our team, as a person committed to improving the health and well-being of Alaska Native people," the organization wrote. "For those who worked most closely with Sarah, this loss is immeasurable."
Metlakatla Police Chief Bruce Janes identified the pilot as 51-year-old Ron Rash of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
The crash occurred in light winds and 10-mile (16-kilometer) visibility, Johnson said. The plane also was carrying a load of cargo and was supposed to also pick up other passengers after landing.
Johnson said it was "way too early" to determine a cause. He anticipates the preliminary report into the crash to be released by the end of the week.
Monday's crash followed the May 13 midair collision of a Taquan Air Otter floatplane with another floatplane. Six people died in that crash and another 10 people were injured. Both planes were carrying sightseeing cruise ship passengers.
Johnson said the NTSB is investigating both crashes as separate cases.
Last summer, all 11 on board another Taquan Air flight survived when the 72-year-old pilot confused snow on a mountain with a body of water and crashed on a rocky mountainside on Prince of Wales Island near the southern tip of the Alaska Peninsula.
A pilot and eight cruise ship passengers died June 25, 2015, when a de Havilland DHC-3 Otter operated by Promech Air Inc. crashed into mountainous terrain about 24 miles (38 kilometers) from Ketchikan, also as it was returning from Misty Fjords.
The NTSB later determined that pilot error, the company's culture and lack of a formal safety program were among the causes of that crash. Taquan Air purchased the assets of Promech in 2016, and currently employs three pilots who worked for Promech, a company spokeswoman said last week.
Copenhagen, May 20 (AP/UNB) — Swedish authorities on Monday issued a request for a detention order against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is now jailed in Britain, a Swedish prosecutor said.
Prosecutor Eva-Marie Persson says if the Swedish court decided to detain Assange "on probable cause suspected for rape ... I will issue a European Arrest Warrant."
The development sets up a possible future tug-of-war between Sweden and the United States over any extradition of Assange from Britain.
Assange was evicted last month from the Ecuadorian Embassy where he had been holed up with political asylum since 2012. He was then immediately arrested by British police on April 11 and is currently serving a 50-week sentence in Britain for jumping bail in 2012.
The Australian secret-spiller also faces a U.S. extradition warrant for allegedly conspiring to hack into a Pentagon computer.
Persson said Monday that British authorities will decide any conflict between a European arrest warrant and U.S. extradition request for Assange.
On May 13, Swedish prosecutors reopened a preliminary investigation against Assange, who visited Sweden in 2010, after two Swedish women said they were the victims of sex crimes committed by Assange.
While a case of alleged sexual misconduct against Assange in Sweden was dropped in 2017 when the statute of limitations expired, a rape allegation remains. Swedish authorities have had to shelf it because Assange was living at the embassy at the time and there was no prospect of bringing him to Sweden.
The statute of limitations in the rape case expires in August next year. Assange has denied wrongdoing, asserting that the allegations were politically motivated and that the sex was consensual.
Persson said the day and time for the detention hearing at the Uppsala District Court north of Stockholm that will make the decision has not yet been decided.
"However, in my view, the Swedish case can proceed concurrently with the proceedings in the U.K.," Persson said in a statement.
Kiev, May 20 (AP/UNB) — Ukrainian TV star Volodymyr Zelenskiy was sworn in as the country's new president on Monday, promised to stop the war in the country's east against Russian-backed separatists and immediately disbanded parliament, which he has branded as a group only interested in self-enrichment.
Even before he disbanded the Supreme Rada, which had been one of his campaign promises, the 41-year-old Zelenskiy had upended the traditions of Ukrainian politics.
He ditched the idea of a traditional motorcade to his inauguration, walking to the parliament through a park packed with people. Flanked by four bodyguards, he was giving high-fives to some spectators and even stopped to take a selfie with one of them.
Before he made the announcement, Zelenskiy asked the Supreme Rada to adopt a bill against illegal enrichment and support his motions to fire the country's defense minister, the head of the Ukrainian Security Service and the Prosecutor General. All of them are allies of former President Petro Poroshenko, who lost the presidential election in a landslide to the comedian with no previous political experience.
In a feisty speech after his inauguration, Zelenskiy told the Rada that his main goal for the presidency is to bring peace to eastern Ukraine, where government troops have been fighting Russia-backed separatists for five years.
"I'm ready to do everything so that our heroes don't die there," he said. "I'm ready to lose my popularly and, if necessary, I'm ready to lose my post so that we have peace."
Zelenskiy garnered 73% of the vote at the presidential election last month in a victory that reflected Ukrainians' exhaustion with politics-as-usual. For years, he has played the Ukrainian president in a popular television show.
The new president wrapped up his speech at parliament by referring to his career as a comedian.
"Throughout all of my life, I tried to do everything to make Ukrainians laugh," he said with a smile. "In the next five years I will do everything so that Ukrainians don't cry."
Rome, May 20 (AP/UNB) — The Italian interior ministry vowed Sunday to press ahead with a new decree formalizing the closure of Italian ports to aid groups that rescue migrants, even after U.N. human rights investigators said it violated international law.
Ministry officials said the security decree was "necessary and urgent" and was expected to be approved at a Cabinet meeting Monday.
In a May 15 letter to Italy's government released Saturday, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights urged Italy to withdraw the decree, calling it "yet another political attempt to criminalize search and rescue operations."
The decree "further intensifies the climate of hostility and xenophobia against migrants," said the letter, which was signed by several U.N. human rights rapporteurs.
It was issued as a ship carrying more than 40 migrants from the German aid group Sea-Watch remained off the island of Lampedusa waiting for a port to disembark its passengers. Sea-Watch said it had flouted Italy's ban and entered Italian territorial waters on Saturday for humanitarian reasons.
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, a hard-line populist, proposed the decree before the European Parliament elections this week, where nationalist, anti-migrant parties are hoping to make strong gains. Salvini's League has soared in popularity in part because of his hard-line migration policy, which has involved boosting the Libyan coast guard's ability to rescue migrants and bring them back.
Among other provisions, the decree leaves it to the interior minister to limit or prohibit entry into Italian territorial waters any ships for public security reasons. It foresees fines of up to 5,500 euros ($6,145) for each migrant transported.
The U.N. letter says the measures would violate migrants' human rights, which are enshrined in U.N. conventions that Italy has signed. It said Italy is obliged to rescue migrants in distress and can't impede others from doing so. And it says that Libya can't be considered a safe port for migrants rescued at sea, particularly after the recent spike in fighting.
In a statement late Sunday, the Italian foreign ministry said the letter carried no juridical weight and suggested it was based on imprecise information. It noted that since Jan. 1, 2018, Italy has received eight such letters, whereas the U.S. has received 30, Britain 16 and France 12.
Interior ministry officials told journalists in a statement Sunday that Turkey and North Korea similarly punish border violations and that Italy has long had fines in its legal code, which have merely been updated.
"The hope is that the authoritative U.N. dedicates its energies to the humanitarian emergency in Venezuela rather than engage in electoral campaigning in Italy," they said.
Meanwhile, British and French authorities have stopped 61 migrants who tried to cross the English Channel in five small boats over the weekend.
The British Home Office said 52 migrants on four boats were intercepted Saturday and Sunday off the Kent Coast and handed to immigration officials. The migrants said they were from Iraq and Iran.
The French maritime authority for the Channel and North Sea said a patrol ship spotted a boat carrying nine migrants Sunday off the coast of Cape of Gris-Nez. The nine were suffering light hypothermia and were handed over to border police in Calais.
Several of the migrants were children.
Illegal migrant crossings across the English Channel are on the rise in recent weeks despite joint British-French efforts to crack down on them.
Anchorage, May 16 (AP/UNB) — A newly married couple, a pilot who used his family's savings to buy his own plane, a devoted family man from Australia and an office manager at an insurance company with a vivacious personality and a heart of gold were among the six victims in this week's deadly midair collision of two sightseeing planes in Alaska.
Ten others survived the Monday crash over an inlet in southeast Alaska near the cruise ship port community of Ketchikan. All 14 passengers were off the cruise ship Royal Princess, which is on a seven-day trip in Alaska.
Alaska State Troopers identified the passengers who died as 46-year-old Louis Botha of San Diego, 56-year-old Simon Bodie from Tempe, New South Wales, Australia, 62-year-old Cassandra Webb from St. Louis, 39-year-old Ryan Wilk from Utah and 37-year-old Elsa Wilk of Richmond, British Columbia, Canada. Also killed was the pilot of one of the planes, 46-year-old Randy Sullivan of Ketchikan.
Responders have begun to recover the wreckage of planes, according to federal accident investigators. The larger of the floatplanes was recovered and put on a barge to be transported to Ketchikan, National Transportation Safety Board member Jennifer Homendy said Wednesday. The NTSB has a team of investigators from Washington, D.C., at the scene.
The recovery of the smaller plane has begun and will take longer because of the large debris field from that aircraft, Homendy said.
Here's a closer look at the victims:
Simon Bodie, 56, was a businessman from Tempe, New South Wales, Australia, and described in Australian media as a "devoted family man."
Bodie, a father of two, is believed to have taken the fateful flight with his wife of 31 years, Stephanie, The Australian newspaper reported.
"Simon was a unique beautiful person and a devoted family man. He will be greatly missed by all that knew him," his family said in a statement issued through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Randy Sullivan knew the perils of flying in southeast Alaska, where weather is always a challenge.
"The danger," Sullivan told the Los Angeles Times in a profile in 2015, "it's on people's minds. Always."
His wife, Julie, also knew the risks.
She kissed him before each flight as a gesture of good luck and love.
The Sullivans owned and operated Mountain Air Service, a flight service specializing in Misty Fjords National Monument tours, bear viewing and glacier tours, according to the company website. It says Sullivan grew up in Ketchikan, spending time as a child in remote logging camps.
He received aviation training at Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology in Tulsa, Oklahoma, before returning to Ketchikan. He flew in the Ketchikan area for 14 years, according to the website.
"After countless hours of flying, he has become extremely well respected and known to be 'one of the best' in his field," the page states.
He spent his family's $500,000 savings on a 1952 Beaver airplane, he told the Los Angles newspaper. It wasn't clear if that aircraft was the doomed plane.
Julie Sullivan has been given legal advice not to speak to reporters, said her father, Bud Kenyon.
"We're shocked, you know. We're just in disbelief about all this. It's hard to understand this. It's tough for us, you know," he said, his voice breaking. "It's a roller coaster."
RYAN and ELSA WILK
Ryan and Elsa Wilk planned to move from British Columbia to their new home in a Salt Lake City suburb.
They were killed in Monday's crash.
Ryan Wilk, 39, was a cybersecurity expert who had been featured in a number of articles, including in the New York Times.
He was a vice president for the Canadian firm NuData Security, a division of MasterCard.
Friends and colleagues remember Wilk as an intelligent, witty man who cherished good beer and long conversations.
"I can tell you my brother was an amazing man, son, husband, brother and uncle. We are completely devastated," his sister, Shannon Wilk, told Salt Lake City television station KSL.
"Ryan was a very kind man with a fun personality. I loved how much we laughed together," Daniela Veliz Llaguno, Wilk's first wife, told The Associated Press.
His free time was spent camping, watching college football and listening to the Grateful Dead, she added.
Friends remembered Elsa Wilk, 37, as a kind, dedicated friend looking forward to the next stage of her life.
Mark Pashley, who knew Elsa through their taekwondo practice, said Wilk was a fierce competitor in the studio and a social butterfly who loved to joke with friends in her free time.
Wilk had worked as a marketing director for different tech companies in Vancouver and held a black belt in taekwondo. She traveled around the world to compete in the sport.
Pashley said the couple hoped to start a family together in Salt Lake City.
"Everyone knew them as a wonderful couple, they were totally in love," he added.
Shannon Wilk told KSL that another victim, Louis Botha of San Diego, was Elsa Wilk's brother. Attempts by The Associated Press to reach the Botha family were not immediately successful.
Cassandra Webb, 62, liked to be called Cassie and was looking forward to retirement, getting a little travel time in ahead of that by taking trips with friends who have already ended their careers.
The Alaska trip was one she was really looking forward to, said Kevin Epperson, her boss and a co-worker in St. Louis for 30 years.
Webb and her friends spent three days in Vancouver, British Columbia, and then planned to be on the Royal Princess cruise in Alaska for seven days before ending the trip with a seven-day rail trip across Canada.
"Cassie was just an absolutely amazing person," Epperson said. "I mean, she was, you know, just a hoot to be around, she was a lot of fun. She always had a positive outlook on everything, had a heart of gold."
Epperson said he was in shock when he got the news. "The last thing you expect when somebody goes on a vacation, that they're going to perish," he said.
He will feel her absence every day at his insurance firm where she was the office manager.
"It's a loss that she's not going to be sitting across from me anymore. I'm not going to get to see her and talk to her every day," he said. "She was like a second mom to me."
Among her survivors are two sons, Dustin and Caleb.