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Near fatality on Tongass Narrows
by Shelly Tradel


December 21, 2004

On Dec 4th, a volunteer firefighter came to my Pennock Island home to teach my 6 year old daughter and myself about fire safety and to inspect our home for fire hazards.  The visit went well until I was running him back to Ketchikan in our 20 foot glasply.  Right in front of Thomas Basin Harbor we heard a screaming airplane engine. I looked out of my daughter's window and only saw the point of a float plane pontoon. I could only see the point because it was less than a foot from her head. The plane was tipped starboard side down to lift the port pontoon over the cabin of my boat and the other pontoon cleared the stern by only a few inches. I stopped the boat to think through what had happened and was directly in front of the dolphin; right in front of the harbor. I didn't see the plane either. He must have been traveling right along the dock front where it is difficult to make out moving objects. I was watching constantly for other boats as visibility is poor through boat windows, never saw the plane. Maybe the high rate of speed makes it harder to see. I don't think I could have gotten out of the way fast enough anyway.

I found out later that day through calling the local float plane companies, who it was and that, the PILOT NEVER SAW US, THE PASSENGER SAW US, AND THANK GOD!!!!

We would have been dead, the volunteer firefighter, my 6 year old daughter, and myself, dead. We would like to extend thanks to the passenger enroute to Metlakatla on December 4th, had he not seen us we would have been t-boned by a float plane on take-off at 80 or so miles an hour.  I was told that the pilot had 30 years of experience and he was always very careful.

Unfortunately this is only one of the many very close calls we have had with float planes over the years transiting Tongass Narrows from Pennock Island. I don't understand how we have avoided serious injury or death from float plane collision, there is so much slow moving traffic, and then there are hundreds of float planes taking off at speeds nearing 100 miles an hour. Do you think a kayaker could get out of the way if the pilot didn't see him? Or maybe one of the tourists looking at the sights may alert the pilot again to save another life. Maybe we should have passenger/tourist boat sighting training.

I wonder what would happen at Phoenix International airport or Seattle Tacoma airport if there were 20 skateboarders, 5 school busses, 15 sports cars, 5 or 6 motorcycles, 3 semi trucks with trailers, and just a few regular cars and trucks randomly driving around the tarmac?

That would be a good comparison to what the traffic flow is like in Tongass Narrows in the summer time. The near accident that is described above happened in one of the slowest times of the year.

Maybe we should have float planes at the AIRPORT, where planes are expected to be.

Shelly Tradel
Ketchikan, AK - USA



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