NTSB, NOAA continue search for floatplane wreckage in Puget Sound

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On Friday, the National Transportation Safety Board and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association continued scouring the waters off Whidbey Island for floatplane wreckage.

The agencies used multibeam and side scan sonar to map and survey the seafloor, collecting data for a 1.75 by 0.75-mile area, said Sarah Sulick with the NTSB.

“The mapping effort identified targets on the seafloor in the area we expected to find airplane debris. It has not been confirmed at this time if they are part of the aircraft,” said Sulick.

As for the next phase of the search, crews will confirm if the targets that were identified are or aren’t part of the aircraft.

Officials said because of the water’s depth and current (3 to 5 knots), the most suitable tool for visual confirmation is a remote-operated vehicle.

On Thursday, officials identified a body that was recovered last weekend. It was that of 29-year-old Gabrielle Hanna, a Seattle attorney.

Hanna was one of 10 people on board when the plane went down. The other nine bodies have not been recovered.

NOAA joined in on the search Thursday as the agency used very extensive technology to look for the wreckage. Only bits and pieces of the plane have been recovered thus far.

“NOAA survey vessels are well-equipped ships with hull-mounted sonars and tote sonars that are used exactly to find wreckage like this,” said David Mearns, an oceanographer who specializes in deepwater search and recovery operations.

While five days have passed since the crash, Mearns said it’s highly unlikely that the airplane’s wreckage has drifted because of the water’s tide.

“You would need really fast-moving, 2-knot, 3-knot, 4-knot type of currents to really expect that plane to move away from where it crashed,” Mearns said.

Once the wreckage is located, then comes the hard part, which Mearns said is delicately and respectfully removing the bodies.

“That is the most sensitive work to be done, and generally if you can have divers do that rather than robotic vehicles, that is preferred,” said Mearns.

While crews continued to search the seafloor, Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday paid his respects to the 10 people who died.

“It is a tragedy that has affected everybody in the state of Washington to see such a loss of life in a beautiful place in a beautiful time,” the governor said.

Once the aircraft is recovered, NTSB investigators said it could still take two years before a final report into the crash is published.

Oceanographers told KIRO 7 that it is highly likely and almost a certainty that the plane will have to be removed from the water so that investigators can look for real-time clues to determine what happened.