DESTRUCTION BAY, Yukon — Fred Lind was walking his dog along the shores of Kluane Lake, in the Yukon community of Destruction Bay, when he saw a small float plane make what he thought was a near-perfect landing before it flipping over and killed a 63-year-old passenger inside.
“It was a perfectly clear night, the water was completely calm,” he said. “The pilot made almost a perfect landing coming into the sun. Then somehow he hit the water with one wing down and the plane just flipped.”
The plane was carrying a couple travelling from Alaska through the Yukon and onto the Lower 48 states when it went down Monday night.
The 69-year-old pilot survived, but his wife was killed. Their names haven’t been released.
“(The pilot) didn’t come right out,” Lind said. “He must have stayed in there trying to get his wife out. When he came out he was holding his head either in grief or in pain and yelling for help.”
The pilot clung to one of the floats as locals mobilized.
“They had three boats in the water within minutes,” said Loren Maluorno, owner of the Destruction Bay Lodge.
“We had just finished up dinner, and we saw the plane come in low over the water. We never heard it taxi in.”
Instead, Maluorno received the first of several calls alerting him to what had happened.
“Telephones were ringing all across the communities, here and in Burwash (Landing). Everyone moved. Within minutes, there were three boats in the water and about 15 people out there. Within half an hour, there were 30 or 40 people at the lake responding to the crash.”
Sam White, who runs a fishing charter and was one of the first people on the scene, rushed to his boat when his uncle ran to him with news of the crash.
White said when he reached the plane, the front doors were underwater, forcing him to go in through the back of the plane.
In freezing water that was generously mixed with plane fuel, White quickly moved some luggage out of the way, but the woman was strapped in tight and unconscious.
“We just couldn’t get her out,” he said.
With the passenger door sealed shut and the safety harness holding the woman underwater, there was nothing the rescuers could do.