Midair Collision of Two Excursion Planes Carrying Princess Cruises Passengers Raises Questions About Liability

A midair collision of two floatplanes carrying Princess Cruises passengers caused the deaths of six people on Monday, May 13, 2019. All passengers were guests of the Princess Cruises’ Royal Princess cruise ship.

One of the planes involved in the crash, an Otter plane operated by Taquan Air, carried 10 passengers on a shore excursion. Its passengers were returning from a tour of Alaska’s Misty Fjords, and they purchased their tickets for the tour from Princess Cruises. Three of the passengers lost their lives.

The other plane carried four Princess Cruises passengers and a pilot. This independent tour flight was operated by Mountain Air Service. The Coast Guard reported that all four passengers and the pilot on this plane lost their lives.

An NTSB Investigation Is Underway

A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) team of investigators is working to identify the cause of the collision. Their investigation will focus on:

  • Interviewing witnesses
  • Studying pilot logbooks
  • Reviewing the pilots’ training, qualifications, and medical issues
  • Filing of flight plans with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) or the operators
  • Analyzing aircraft maintenance records
  • Reviewing tour operators’ operating procedures

Unfortunately, neither of the float planes contained flight data recorders or cockpit voice recorders. Regulations do not require these devices, NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy reported in a news conference on the crash.

Understanding Princess Cruises’ Liability in This Crash

On the surface, many legal professionals would see Princess Cruises as being a negligent party to this collision and the tragic deaths and injuries of the passengers. However, cruise carriers tend to blur the line of their liability for accidents that occur on shore excursions.

Princess Cruise passengers who take part in chartered tours at the ship’s destinations must sign a Passage Contract for Chartered Voyages. This contract contains specific language regarding Princess Cruises’ liability in the event of injury or death on any of these excursions. The relevant contract text reads as follows (“Carrier” refers to Princess Cruises, and “You” refers to the ship passenger):

“Carrier accepts no liability for any loss, delay, damage, injury, death, or misrepresentation arising from any excursion, service or transportation…Carrier makes no warranty, either express or implied, regarding the suitability, safety, insurance or other aspects of any such contractors, transportation, tours, services, products or facilities. Any liability for such services will be governed by this Passage Contract and the contracts and/or tariffs between You and such service companies.”

No doubt, Princess Cruise’s lawyers will point to this clause upon hearing any rumblings of a personal injury lawsuit or wrongful death action against the carrier.

Still, a law firm might be able to work their way around this fine print.

Working Around Princess Cruises’ Liability Clause

These liability clauses are standard among cruise carrier companies. Still, companies do face lawsuits when injury or death occurs on shore excursions, and increasingly, the plaintiffs are winning.

A lawsuit against Princess Cruises in this accident would have to establish the carrier’s negligence in referring passengers to the excursion companies.  A lawyer for a plaintiff suing the carrier might argue that Princess Cruises either knew or reasonably should have known of the air-tour operators’ incompetence and that the incompetence caused these deaths and injuries.

This argument could be based on Taquan Air’s recent history of crashes:

  • July 10, 2018 – Taquan Air operated an Otter plane carrying 10 passengers and a pilot. The plane crashed into the mountains west of Hydaburg after the pilot became disoriented in a sudden onset of decreased visibility.
  • July 24, 2007 – Taquan Air operated an Otter plane carrying a pilot and four Princess Cruises cruise-ship passengers in a flight northeast of Ketchikan. Investigations determined that, due to pilot misjudgment, the plane crashed in the face of a weather wall and mountainous terrain.

Many legal professionals would find it unlikely or irresponsible that Princess Cruises would not have been aware of the competency concerns surrounding Taquan Air, especially given the 2007 incident that killed four Princess Cruises passengers. The fact that either they knew about the operator’s recent history of crashes and chose to promote and sell the operator’s excursions to cruise passengers anyway represents grave negligence.

Possible FAA Liability

Another entity merits attention in this tragic crash: the FAA. The prevalence of crashes amidst the Southeast Alaska tour industry suggests the FAA might not be performing its duty of care to passengers and pilots of these flights.

On July 31, 2008, close to a year after the 2007 Taquan Air flight crash around Ketchikan, the NTSB filed a safety recommendation expressing concerns about FAA’s efforts in this area. The recommendation states the following:

“Based on the preliminary findings from this investigation, and the findings from four other previous air tour accidents during the past 10 years, the Safety Board is concerned about the lack of weather information, ineffective Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) oversight of air tour operators’ adherence to required weather minimums, and inadequate pilot training for commercial air tour operations in Southeast Alaska.”

In this document, NTSB issued the following recommendations to the FAA:

  • Weather cameras – Maintain and install weather cameras along tour route areas, including “the air tour routes in Southeast Alaska, near Ketchikan.”
  • Inspections – Conduct monthly ground and en route inspections of air tour flights to check for safe flying practices (no black boxes were found in the planes of the most recent collisions).
  • Pilot Training – Provide training for air tour pilots, specifically in the area of responding to changing local weather conditions (The pilot of the 2007 Taquan Air crash reported only seven hours of Alaska flight time when hired by Taquan Air). Require that pilots take this training.

If the FAA did not implement or execute the above recommendations effectively, there could be grounds for FAA negligence.

Liability of Taquan Air and Mountain Air Service

Depending upon what the NTSB investigators discover, the air-tour operators, Taquan Air and Mountain Air Service, might also prove to be liable for damages resulting from Monday’s crash.

Possibly, either or both operators failed to properly hire their pilots or train them on correct procedures during whatever circumstance they faced the day of the collision.

It is also possible that one of the aircraft malfunctioned due to defective components or equipment. In this case, the manufacturer and/or maintenance service provider could be liable for damages.

Next Steps for Family Members Affected by this Tragedy

If you or a loved one sustained injuries in the Alaskan floatplane collision that carried Princess Cruises passengers, you deserve compensation.

Your first step should be to immediately contact a lawyer who has handled this type of personal injury lawsuit, preferably a firm that has represented plaintiffs in a suit against a cruise line carrier company.

This type of lawsuit has many moving parts and can become too complicated for an attorney who has not engaged in such litigation.

How Chalik & Chalik Injury Lawyers Can Help

Cruise ship passengers shell out thousands of dollars to enjoy a carefree, relaxing vacation. They believe that the cruise line should put their safety above all other concerns.

The personal injury legal team at Chalik & Chalik Injury Lawyers agrees. That is why we represent victims of cruise ship-related accidents so vigorously.

Our 2018 Lawsuit Against Royal Caribbean Cruises

In December 2018, Chalik & Chalik Injury Lawyers filed a lawsuit against Royal Caribbean Cruises LTD after a tragic zip line accident resulted in the death of a cruise ship passenger and the serious injury of the passenger’s wife. After Shir Frenkel got stuck halfway down her zip line cable, the zip line operators sent her husband Igal Tyszman from the opposite direction. The two collided with tremendous force, causing Tyszman’s death and Frenkel’s catastrophic injuries.

The Arguments We Presented

Our legal team argued that Royal Caribbean was aware of safety issues with the zip line tour operator, due to a previous lawsuit against the company. The carrier also knew about 10 other accidents with the same operator.

We also argued that Royal Caribbean’s passengers assumed the excursion would implement a level of safety in line with the cruise line’s standards, as the cruise line promoted the excursion and sold tickets for it.

Chalik & Chalik Injury Lawyers settled this case in four months.

We believe the same principles apply to the tragedy that Princess Cruises’ passengers experienced this week. Just because you sign a waiver does not mean you condone someone else’s negligence.

Chalik & Chalik Injury Lawyers Will Accept Cases for Victims and Families of the Alaskan Air-Tour Crash

The legal team at Chalik & Chalik Injury Lawyers feels tremendous sympathy for the victims of the May 13, 2019 air-tour crash in Alaska. We want to help these victims and their families receive the compensation they deserve for the physical, emotional, and economic damages they have suffered.

Call our office today at 855-529-0269 for a free, no-obligation consultation.