ISLAND COUNTY, Wash. - Authorities say they’ve recovered 80% of a floatplane that crashed on Sept. 4 near Whidbey Island that killed all ten people on board. As of Sept. 30, a total of six victims were recovered.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the US Navy are working together to recover the wreckage.
Teams began a 24/7 operation Tuesday morning working until the wreckage is back above water. Crews are equipped with an underwater drone, a large crane and a team of specialists.
Island County Emergency Management told FOX 13 that five additional victims were recovered on Sept. 30. Gabbie Hana, a 30-year-old lawyer for an international law firm, was found shortly after the crash. So far, she has been the only body that has been identified.
The medical examiner's office has yet to release the identity of the five others found.
Chair of the NTSB Jennifer Homendy told FOX 13 News on Thursday that they were making progress.
"Yesterday we were able to bring up the engine for the plane, and today we were able to bring up about 80% of the plane which is good progress," said Homendy. "Now we are currently searching for a few other pieces to bring up: we have the wing a portion of the horizontal stabilizer for both elevators, and the ailerons that we are looking to bring up, and we also just found the propeller and gear box that we are also bringing up."
The NTSB says one of the biggest challenges they have faced is dealing with the current.
"It’s really been difficult because when the current is really strong the ROV (remotely-operated vehicle) can’t move forward and will move around and in some cases it gets very difficult to see even with the lights and the cameras," she said. "So what has happened is we have had to bring up the ROV when it has become a challenge, and then we wait until the next slack tide, so we can put the ROV back in and do what we can in that time frame."
Each crew works in 12-hour shifts, and they do expect to continue this work over the next few days.
On Sept. 9, crews identified an object on the seafloor using sonar, but needed to return to it to visually confirm that it was the wreckage. The agency confirmed that they located the wreckage on Sept. 12. The plane was found approximately 190 feet underwater.
The Navy is using a remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) that goes down to the wreckage site on the seafloor. They will also use a barge and a crane to recover the wreckage. The crane is meant to lift the wreckage pieces and the ROV will pick up smaller bits.
Recovering the wreckage site will help investigators determine exactly what happened. However, it could take up to two years for the investigation to be completed in its entirety.
Witnesses near the accident site reported the airplane was in level flight before it entered a slight climb, then pitched down in a near-vertical descent. Several witnesses described the airplane "spinning," "rotating" or "spiraling" during portions of the descent, according to NTSB.
Tom Chapman with NTSB told FOX 13 News on Tuesday that the actual flight only lasted about 35 minutes, and the plane got no higher than about 1,000 ft in the air.