The Covid Blog
WHIDBEY ISLAND, WASHINGTON — We want to emphasize that there is no definitive proof that the pilot of this plane was “vaccinated.” The company that operated the plane, however, frequently flies into Canada. All flight crews, pilots, truckers, passengers, etc. have been required to be fully vaccinated to travel in and out of Canada since January. Twelve of this particular plane’s final 29 flights went to Canada or originated in Canada (return trips).
Based on what’s unfolded so far since the Sunday, September 4 plane crash in the Puget Sound, all anyone, including the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), can and will be able to do is speculate as to what happened. Thus we have the right and the journalistic background to do so as well.
The de Havilland DHC-3 Otter float plane
The plane involved in this accident is tail number N725TH. It is a 1967 de Havilland DHC-3 fixed-wing, single engine “Otter” aircraft, according to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) data.
It was manufactured from 1951 to 1967. There were 466 of these planes produced in total. The crashed DHC-3 Otter had serial number 466, meaning it was the last and “newest” one produced. It is a short take off and landing (STOL) plane; it doesn’t need a lot of runway or water to take off and/or land.
This specific plane was used mostly for short flights. It took a total of 29 flights from August 26 until the crash. Only 10 of those flights lasted more than one hour. Its last voyage was the sixth flight of the day for this plane, according to FlightAware data. The plane was owned by Northwest Seaplanes Inc. and operated by Friday Harbor Seaplanes.
It was a 55-year-old aircraft. That doesn’t necessarily mean the plane is “bad,” if you will. Its airworthiness certificate was issued on May 12, 2014.
All airplanes must pass annual inspections to operate. Northwest Seaplanes posted a Facebook video last November prepping N725TH for its annual maintenance check.
The U.S. military was once de Havilland’s biggest customer. Militaries around the world have used these planes for rescue operations and to drop supplies in hard-to-reach areas for decades. There are still 68 of said planes registered with the FAA today. One report said there were 117 DHC-3 Otters registered in Canada in 2017.
The DHC-3 Otter has a maximum capacity of 12 people, which can break down to two pilots and 10 passengers, or one pilot and 11 passengers. Thus the Whidbey Island flight was at full capacity. These planes can be configured with amphibious floats, standard wheels, or skis for landing on snow. In other words, they are meant to handle unusual terrain.
It’s unclear if the floats on N725TH were amphibious, meaning they also had wheels for potential landings on runways. Regardless, all reports refer to it as a “float plane” built to land on water.
From 900 feet to impact in five seconds, no mayday
The flight took off from Friday Harbor on San Juan Island (pinned below), Washington at 2:50 p.m. Pacific time. It was headed to Renton, Washington, about 12 miles south of Seattle.
It’s an 80-mile flight, about 40 minutes in the air. Note it’s about a four-hour drive from Friday Harbor to Renton (due to all the tolls and bridges) despite being only 115 miles of actual road. Ten of this plane’s last 29 flights were this same trip from Friday Harbor to Renton or vice versa. They all averaged about 38 total minutes in flight time.
What we know for certain is that there was no mayday (distress call) to air traffic control, according to several sources. Witnesses who saw the crash told The Seattle Times that at first, they thought the plane was landing (on water). “But it was coming in at a 45-degree angle,” one witness said. All accounts of the crash described a “huge splash,” a loud noise, then the plane completely disappearing underwater near Whidbey Island in Mutiny Bay (Puget Sound) at about 3:08 p.m. local time.
Reports indicate that the plane was just fine for the first 18 minutes of the flight. The Automatic Dependent Surveillance–Broadcast (ADS-B) data for the flight show that the plane was cruising at 900 feet from 3:08:00 p.m. to 3:08:48 p.m. It plunged to 800 feet at 3:08:50 p.m., then to 200 feet just three second later. It was off the radar thereafter. In other words the plane plunged at cruising speed from 900 feet in the air, into the water (that is 250-300 feet deep) nose-first in less than five seconds.