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Pilot of plane that crashed in Alaska is former Navy and commercial aviator

Zaz Hollander, Anchorage Daily News on

Published in News & Features

WASILLA, Alaska -- The pilot of a floatplane that crashed Tuesday near Ketchikan told a federal investigator he put the plane into an emergency climb just before it hit the side of a mountain on Prince of Wales Island.

Everyone in the plane survived. Two passengers remained hospitalized Wednesday afternoon, one in Seattle and the other in Ketchikan.

One reportedly suffered a back injury, the other a foot or leg injury, according to preliminary information from investigators.

Pilot Mike Hudgins, 72, was flying a Taquan Air de Havilland Otter from a fishing lodge at Steamboat Bay to Ketchikan when the plane crashed at about 2,000 feet above the West Arm of Cholmondeley Sound, Alaska State Troopers said.

Hudgins told a National Transportation Safety Board investigator he left the lodge around 7:50 a.m., according to Clint Johnson, NTSB's Alaska region chief. He said he encountered ceilings of about 1,100 feet and 3 to 5 miles of visibility.

As Hudgins navigated through mountains between the lodge and Ketchikan, it is likely that visibility diminished, Johnson said. The pilot told investigator Brice Banning he saw the side of the mountain rising up ahead of him.

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"Once he saw the rising terrain, he tried to do an emergency climb," Johnson said. The plane, slowed by the sudden climb, dropped as the side of the mountain came up.

A photo of the plane at the crash site shows the wings drooping but little front-end damage, as if the Otter hit hard but not nose-first.

Rescuers battling thick clouds got to the plane after more than an hour of searching, hoisted everyone to a sea-level staging area, then flew them back to Ketchikan. None of the injuries was described as life-threatening.

Six of the people involved in the crash were evaluated and released Tuesday at Ketchikan PeaceHealth Medical Center, according to hospital spokeswoman Mischa Chernick.

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