ANCHORAGE — A mother, her 10-year-old daughter and a retired Anchorage cop who has been flying for decades were identified Tuesday as the three victims of a plane crash in Rainy Pass.
The two passengers in the single-engine Cessna 182, Carolyn Sorvoja, 48, and her daughter, Rosemarie Sorvoja, 10, were headed Monday to the Iditarod checkpoint at Takotna, where they hoped to volunteer, according to family spokesman David Morris.
The pilot was Ted Smith, 59, a 30-year veteran of the Anchorage Police Department who retired as a patrol sergeant in July 2011. The Cessna, manufactured in 1958, was registered in Smith's name.
Public records show Smith and the Sorvojas lived less than half a mile apart in a subdivision off Eagle River Road, about 10 miles from downtown Eagle River.
The Cessna took off from Merrill Field about 10 a.m. Monday and was due in Takotna around noon, the eighth Iditarod checkpoint out of Willow. Alaska State Troopers said Smith had planned to return to Anchorage that afternoon to pick up more passengers, but failed to return by 4 p.m.
Smith had not filed a flight plan and was not an official member of the Iditarod Air Force, Alaska National Guard spokeswoman Kalei Rupp said. Merrill Field flight controllers did not report the plane overdue till about 4 p.m.
With the alert, the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson phoned airports along the route to see if the plane had landed safely, then called in the Alaska Air National Guard Monday evening to begin a search.
Searching the route for about 8 hours, a guard helicopter and C-130 came up empty. On Tuesday morning, the guard, assisted by Civil Air Patrol planes and several volunteer pilots, began a more systematic search. The crew of an Air Guard Pave Hawk helicopter spotted the wreckage about 10:20 a.m. The plane had crashed around the 4,500-foot level at Rainy Pass, said National Transportation Safety Board investigator Bryce Banning.
Rupp said the helicopter crew was able to land near the wreckage.
"The crash site was described as making a significant impact onto the terrain," she said. All three people aboard were dead. The pararescue team had to use emergency tools to cut into the plane to remove the bodies, Rupp said.
Banning said he and a representative from Cessna expect to go to the crash site Wednesday. They plan to remove the wreckage by helicopter and transport it to Anchorage, where it can be studied in detail to establish the cause of the crash and contributing factors, he said.
Smith was flying under general aviation rules, not commercial regulations, Banning said. FAA records show Smith was certified as an instrument-certified commercial pilot for single-engine and multiple-engine fixed-wing aircraft and also for helicopters. He had a flight instructor certificate.
While working for the Alaska Police Department, Smith moonlighted in the mid-2000s as a helicopter pilot for an Anchorage charter company, Security Aviation, which hoped to get into the lucrative commercial jet business and had brought several decommissioned Czech warplanes to Alaska. When one of the principles of Security Aviation, Rob Kane, was charged with federal weapons violations, Smith testified on his behalf and Smith's wife Barbara offered to be Kane's custodian on bail. Kane was later acquitted.
Smith was also a firearms instructor.
Sorvoja grew up as Carolyn Briggs in Cincinnati and spent nine years in the Army, where she was an officer. A wedding announcement published in the Daily News in 1995 reported her marriage in Palmer to Finland-born Mark Sorvoja, who came to Alaska with his parents in 1957. Both were skiers.
At the time of their marriage, Mark Sorvoja was working a financial analyst and certified public accountant at an Anchorage bank. He now works in the finance department at GCI, said Morris, who is GCI's spokesman. Morris said he didn't know whether Carolyn Sorvoja worked outside the home. In 2000, according to an announcement by the University of Alaska Anchorage, she received a masters degree in environmental quality science.
Sorvoja's family "is just overwhelmed," Morris said.
Reach Richard Mauer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4345.