JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Ginny Hacker Eiseman spent the weekend reeling in a bounty of colorful fish at Steamboat Bay Fishing Club on remote Noyes Island in Alaska. She was returning home to Ketchikan when the unthinkable happened.
The chartered Taquan Air flight that she and 10 others were on crashed Tuesday on a rocky mountainside near Ketchikan. Everyone survived and was rescued hours later by the U.S. Coast Guard.
“For those wondering I’m alive,” Eiseman, a holistic health coach, posted on Facebook after the rescue, noting that another woman with her was alive, too.
The pilot told an investigator that he had left a lodge on Noyes Island just before 7:50 a.m., with the passengers and light cargo bound for Ketchikan, said Clint Johnson of the National Transportation Safety Board in Alaska.
During the flight, the pilot said, he noticed rising terrain ahead and tried to gain altitude to avoid it. But the float-equipped de Havilland Otter aircraft collided with it instead. The crash occurred around 8:35 a.m., Johnson said.
Johnson said it’s too early to draw any conclusions about the crash. A preliminary report was expected in the coming days.
Alaska State Troopers identified the pilot as Mike Hudgins of Ketchikan. Hudgins made the news in 2016 for rescuing a dog swimming in a busy channel. Efforts by The Associated Press to contact Hudgins weren’t successful.
Taquan Air, in a statement, called Hudgins “a skilled professional with thousands of hours of flying experience in Alaska, and hundreds of hours flying this particular aircraft. We are fortunate to have him as an employee.”
The downed aircraft had an emergency locator that aided a search complicated by limited visibility of roughly one-quarter mile, Coast Guard Petty Officer Charly Hengen said.
The crash occurred on Prince of Wales Island, according to the Coast Guard. The heavily forested island near the southern tip of the Alaska Panhandle is the fourth-largest island in the U.S. At 2,577 square miles (6,675 square kilometers), it’s larger than Delaware.
On Facebook, Eiseman expressed gratitude and even disbelief that they were found. She said the fog “was crazy.”
“Those brave men put their lives on the line for us and it was so incredibly dangerous,” she wrote on Facebook. “I know that we would have never lasted the night up there. They went above and beyond and I’ll be forever thankful that I am alive and was able to hug my family tonight.”
Those on board the plane — 10 passengers and the pilot — were taken to a staging area, where they were assessed. All initially were taken to PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center, with four transferred to Seattle for further care, said Mischa Chernick, communications manager for the Ketchikan hospital.
Chernick could not provide details on the nature of the injuries, citing privacy rules. She said by email that six other people from the plane were evaluated and released, and one was admitted to the hospital and was in fair condition.
The Coast Guard said Tuesday said everyone on board was reported to have minor injuries.
Eiseman praised the medical team who tended to her, including nurses and the doctor who “did a wonderful job with all the stitches and digging out pieces of metal.”
“To the CAT scan tech who was amazing because I couldn’t stop shivering and chattering my teeth and warmed the room up for me and was so kind,” she wrote. “To Ethan the amazing lab tech who has a gift of getting blood painlessly out of cold dehydrated veins.”
Eiseman, contacted by text message Wednesday by the AP, declined to comment until the investigation is complete.
Taquan Air has said it is cooperating with investigating agencies. The company said the flight was a private charter.
Alaska State Troopers previously reported the plane was flying from Prince of Wales Island to Ketchikan when it crashed.