In the second flightseeing crash to impact cruise travelers in Alaska this summer, five passengers on Holland America's Zuiderdam were killed last week. According to the Associated Press, their Ketchikan-based SeaWind Aviation plane crashed into a tree about 25 miles north of that port city.
Amazingly, four others survived the tragedy (and are in hospitals now) aboard the single-engine DeHavilland Beaver float plane. SeaWind offers sightseeing tours to the Misty Fjords National Monument.
The passengers had booked the excursion independently; Holland America does not work with SeaWind Aviation. Our efforts to contact SeaWind for comment were unsuccessful, and its Web site reports that "SeaWind Aviation is currently unavailable. We are making every effort to contact our guests."
The late July crash, in which passengers from Princess Cruises' Sun Princess had booked a tour through their ship's shore excursion department, resulted in the deaths of four travelers. The pilot of the flightseeing plane, which had been headed to Misty Fjords, issued a distress signal -- but never returned. The aircraft was ultimately found in rugged terrain by rescue helicopters.
Princess immediately suspended all tours arranged with Taquan Air, a major supplier to cruise lines of flightseeing tours out of Ketchikan, through which it offered the excursion. Company spokesman Len Laurance told Cruise Critic that "We fly for every cruise line except Princess and Carnival," naming Holland America, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, NCL, and Regent Seven Seas Cruises as clients.
However, Taquan Air is actively working with the National Transportation Safety Board to determine the cause of its accident. At the request of Princess, Taquan Air is also conducting an in-depth analysis. "Princess has required us to do an independent internal audit for them before they'll make a decision on resuming operations," Laurance told us. "In the meantime, we are under normal operations -- expect that we're not flying for Princess."
As well, Laurance continues, "We take every precaution humanly possible to provide a safe environment on behalf of our customers. Our safety record has been impeccable before this accident."
We have been unable to contact the folks at SeaWind. The pilot and owner of the one-plane airline is still recovering in the hospital. But Carlos Lenzamata, a pilot who recently flew with Steve Kamm, pilot and owner of SeaWind Aviation, wrote to us to say that "SeaWind, like most of the independent operators in Alaska is or was a family operation. I'm sure that (his wife) Lesley has other things on her mind besides keeping up the company web site. I'm also sure that the Kamms will respond to the NTSB as required."
Cruise lines have long maintained that shore excursions booked through their ships are more trustworthy and less risky. But, to paraphrase a cliche, in life there are no guarantees.
In our At Your Service: Savvy Sightseeing we ask: Should you book your shore excursions independently of your cruise line -- and save a few bucks -- or is it better to take those tours offered through your ship?
Drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know how you feel. Please put "savvy sightseeing" in the subject line.
--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor
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Second Alaska Flightseeing Crash Impacts Cruisers
August 21, 2007