Allison Smith, 2007-08-16
5 others not identified

Pilot faulted in crash that killed 6 near Ketchikan

By JAMES HALPIN,, Published: December 10th

A pilot's poor decision-making and inadequate planning caused an August 2007 floatplane crash near Ketchikan that killed six people, including members from three generations of an Oregon family, according to a National Transportation Safety Board accident report released Wednesday.

The accident took place about 20 miles north of Ketchikan shortly after a de Havilland DHC-2 floatplane, operated by Seawind Aviation, left the Traitors Cove area after a two-hour bear-viewing tour. The aircraft, which took off directly into strong winds, banked steeply to the left after going airborne, then crashed into a stand of trees along the bay, sparking a fire.

One girl, 3-year-old Allison Smith, was critically burned but survived for several months. She died in October. The Aug. 16 crash killed her parents, twin brother and grandfather. A California man also died.

The only surviving family member aboard was the girl's grandmother, Mindy Mayer of Oregon City, Ore. The pilot, Clifford Steve Kamm, and another woman passenger also survived.

"In this type of an accident, we don't have any data recorders to go back to and analyze and take a look at," said NTSB investigator Clint Johnson. "All that we're able to go by is witness accounts and the physical wreckage."

Kamm told the NTSB that he had 17,000 flight hours and 7,000 hours in a de Havilland DHC-2, according to the report. He reported that southeasterly winds were increasing, causing choppy waters, while he waited for the tour to return to the plane the day of the crash.

To avoid the rising waves, Kamm decided to take off toward the sheltered interior of the bay -- in a direction of rising terrain that he had not attempted before, the report says.

As he attempted to turn the aircraft around, the airplane hit a downdraft, which held it from climbing above the closing landscape, and caused the plane to stall at about 60 feet, the NTSB said.

The NTSB was unable to find any mechanical problems with the aircraft during a post-accident inspection.

Instead, the pilot put the aircraft into an aerodynamic stall as a result of "poor decision-making and inadequate planning and execution when he took off toward nearby rising terrain, in strong winds, under circumstances where his options for maneuvering were severely limited and where his safety margin was, thus, insufficient," the report concludes.

The Federal Aviation Administration previously conducted its own investigation on how the flight was operated -- assessing the number of seat belts on board and prevailing weather conditions -- and concluded no punitive action was required, said FAA spokesman Mike Fergus.

"They did not find any violation of careless or recklessness," Fergus said. "We did ask the pilot to take a reexamination, which he did 13 months after the accident when he recovered from his injuries. ... He passed that with no problem."

According to state business records, Seawind Aviation, a joint venture between Kamm and his wife, Lesley Kamm, remains in operation.

Calls to the Kamms' business and home went unanswered Wednesday. Find James Halpin online at or call him at 257-4589.