National Geographic Cruise Passenger Killed in Floatplane Crash While on an Excursion

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Another cruise ship passenger has been involved in an accident this week, but this time, it’s actually not the cruise line that’s to blame. Authorities are reporting that a 66-year-old passenger from New Mexico was killed while riding in a sightseeing plane in Alaska. The shore excursion accident took place on Tuesday when the small aircraft crashed on the side of a mountain.

The victim, Thomas L. Rising, was among six others onboard a floatplane called the Pacific Wings de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver when the aircraft crashed near Petersburg.  He and the other cruise passenger victims had been sailing on an eight-day Alaska itinerary aboard the National Geographic Sea Bird, an intimate 62-passenger expedition ship operated by travel company Lindblad Cruises and known for its special up-close and personal cruise sailings to wild and unchartered territories.

Rising’s wife chose to remain onboard while he decided to check out the wilderness on the excursion. The other passengers who were on the plane were all related, two of whom were seriously injured. One of the victims suffered a broken leg while the other suffered a broken back. The remaining travelers, along with the pilot, all sustained minor injuries.

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter was sent out immediately following the accident to assist the victims and get them to safety. The passengers who were not seriously wounded were transported to Petersburg while the two victims who suffered the more extensive injuries were flown to a Seattle hospital for treatment.

Rising’s body became trapped on the plane, preventing Coast Guard crews from being able to reach him. Due to the dangerous and steep location on the mountain where the plane had crashed, unfavorable weather and the fact that nighttime was approaching, it wasn’t until Wednesday afternoon that emergency workers were able to attempt a rescue.

The floatplane was operated by a company called Pacific Wings. We have yet to learn what exactly caused the aircraft to crash and whether any charges of negligence will be filed against the pilot. The area is known for temperamental weather conditions, which could have very easily contributed to the crash. However, if negligence was a factor, the surviving victims and Rising’s widow may be entitled to receive compensation for their pain and suffering.

Sadly, this isn’t the first or likely the last time that a cruise passenger will suffer an injury on an excursion. Shore excursion cases are extremely unique because they involve both cruise lines and separate travel companies. Cruise lines often contend that the shore excursions are run by persons not connected with their companies, but truth be told, a large portion of cruise excursions are controlled by the cruise lines themselves or are operated as joint ventures with the excursion provider.

Because this incident occurred in the U.S., at least U.S. maritime laws apply and victims may be able to obtain justice much more quickly than if the accident had taken place in a foreign country, where excursion operators may try to argue that a U.S. Court’s jurisdiction has no power over them. When this occurs, victims face a steep uphill battle to recover damages for their injuries and losses, but with the help of an experienced maritime attorney, both cruise lines and excursion companies may be found responsible for the incident and ordered to pay compensation.

The Alaska crash is currently being investigated by both the National Transportation Safety Board’s Alaska (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration. Check back with our Cruise Ship Law Blog for updates on the incident as soon as they become available.