No witness, recorders to aid NTSB probe of Soldotna crash

mtheriault@adn.comJuly 9, 2013 

No eyewitnesses, "black box" data recorder or surveillance video captured the crash of an air taxi at the airport in Soldotna on Sunday that killed 10, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board said at a press briefing in Anchorage Tuesday.

The NTSB's "Go-Team," which is dispatched to investigate major aviation accidents nationwide, arrived in Anchorage Monday and sent a team of seven investigators, along with support personnel, to Soldotna.

NTSB board member Earl Weener called the team's first day at the crash site at Soldotna's municipal airport "very productive" but said the lack of eyewitnesses or video will make it more difficult to find out exactly what went wrong with the flight, which was supposed to deliver two South Carolina families to a remote bear viewing lodge on the Alaska Peninsula.

The victims of the crash were identified Monday by a South Carolina newspaper as Milton and Kimberly Antonakos and their children, Olivia, 16, Mills, 14, and Anastacia, 11, and Dr. Chris McManus, his wife, Stacey, and their two children, Connor and Meghan, all of Greenville, S.C. , and pilot Walter "Willie" Rediske, a 42-year-old Nikiski native.

What investigators know so far, Weener said, is that the deHavilland DHC-3T Otter took off at 11:20 a.m. Sunday from the airport's lone paved runway and became airborne, though it's not known how long it stayed in the air.

The plane crashed with its right wing down and nose low, Weener said, and came to rest 2,320 feet from the threshold of the runway, in a grassy area 88 feet off the pavement to the right. A fire destroyed much of the aircraft.

All 10 bodies were found inside the airplane, said Dan Bower, a senior accident investigator with the NTSB. Some were still buckled into their seats.

Investigators are now looking to other sources of information on the plane and its planned flight, Weener said. That includes gathering records on the airplane's manufacture, maintenance and ownership, as well as the weight and balance of the passengers and cargo.

So far the team has recovered five cell phones from the wreckage. Investigators hope that images or GPS markers on them will provide additional information.

The plane also had a SPOT satellite messenger device that can send data documenting location to a satellite, Weener said.

The investigators will spend the next week in Soldotna sifting through the wreckage, Weener said.

Wednesday they plan to move the wreckage from the runway area to a hangar at the airport.

No probable cause of the crash will be released while the investigators are in Anchorage, Weener said.

The crash was the worst Alaska aviation accident in more than a decade.

 

Reach Michelle Theriault at mtheriault@adn.com or 257-4344.

 

 

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