NTSB Identification: ANC97FA097.
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Nonscheduled 14 CFR
Accident occurred Thursday, July 03, 1997 in SKAGWAY, AK
Probable Cause Approval Date: 07/13/1998
Aircraft: Piper PA-32, registration: N15199
Injuries: 4 Fatal,1 Minor,1 Uninjured.

NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The aircraft (acft) was on an air taxi/sightseeing flight (flt), which was an optional tour to a cruise liner trip. After viewing glaciers, flt was returning to land. Approach to airport (arpt) was along inlet shore, which had steep mountains descending to the water & infrequent areas of small beach. About 1,200' above water & 1-1/2 mi from arpt, engine lost power. Acft was ditched about 100' from shore near small cliffs. Passengers (pax) exited 1st into 39 deg water, but none exited with life vests. Plt threw one life vest out & exited as acft sank. With help from her husband, a pax donned the life vest that was thrown out; she partially inflated it using oral inflation tube, although it had CO2 cylinder for rapid inflation. Rescue helicopter arrived in about 10 min. Pax with life vest & plt were rescued; 2 pax drowned; other 2 pax were not found. Surviving pax did not recall briefing about location or use of life vests. Life vests were stored in seat-back pouches, but pouch openings were covered by slip-cover type seat covers. Exam of engine revealed left magneto impulse coupling had failed, stopping rotation of magneto drive gear. Several gear teeth on intermediate idler gear were damaged, disconnecting crankshaft from accessory gear train.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:

jamming/failure of the left magneto impulse coupling, which stopped rotation of the magneto gear, and resulted in subsequent shearing of the accessory intermediate idler gear. Factors relating to the accident were: the lack of suitable terrain for a forced landing, which necessitated ditching of the aircraft; the passenger's lack of awareness concerning access to life vests, due to the pilot's inadequate briefing and the seat covers being installed over pouches that held the life vests; insufficient company standards/procedures regarding access to life vests.

Full narrative available

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