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Floatplane collision kills longtime Alaska family of four

Lisa Demer
A float plane sits on the side of the runway at Ted Stevens International Airport after making an emergency landing on Saturday, July 30, 2011. The float plane collided mid-air with a Cessna 180 in the Trapper Creek area.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
A damaged Cessna 206 prepares to land on the north-south runway at Ted Stevens International Airport Saturday afternoon, July 30, 2011. The plane, which was involved in a mid-air collision near Trapper Creek, was able to land safely on the runway.
Bob Butcher
A damaged Cessna 206 approaches the north-south runway at Ted Stevens International Airport Saturday afternoon, July 30, 2011. The plane, which was involved in a mid-air collision near Trapper Creek, was able to land safely on the runway.
Bob Butcher
A float plane sits on the side of the runway at Ted Stevens International Airport after making an emergency landing on Saturday, July 30, 2011. Officials remove material stuck to the float plane, which was involved in a mid-air collision with a Cessna 180 near Trapper Creek.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Pilot Corey Carlson and his wife Hetty along with their daughters Ella, 5, and Addie, 3, lost their lives in a floatplane crash after a mid-air collision near Amber Lake in the Trapper Creek area July 30, 2011. The pilot of the other floatplane was able to land safely in Anchorage.
Photo courtesy of the Barnett family

The midair collision Saturday near Trapper Creek killed a family of four with long roots in Alaska.

The pilot was Corey Carlson, a former Anchorage high school hockey star and scholarship college player; his wife, Hetty Barnett Carlson, whose family goes back generations here; and their two young children, Ella, 5 and Adelaide "Addie," 3, Corey's father, Don Carlson of Anchorage, said Sunday.

Troopers are waiting for the state medical examiner to positively identify the four before officially releasing the names.

But authorities told the parents of both Corey and Hetty Carlson Saturday evening that "they were all gone," Don Carlson said.

The two floatplanes collided about 2:15 p.m. Saturday near Amber Lake, about 12 miles southwest of Trapper Creek.

The second plane, a Cessna 206, was flown by Kevin Earp, 56, of Eagle River. Its floats were heavily damaged but Earp, a veteran Alaska Airlines captain, was able to get to Anchorage and safely land on a runway at Stevens International Airport, according to troopers.

Corey Carlson was flying his Cessna 180, which crashed and burned on the ground. The only part left was the tail section, according to a National Transportation Safety Board investigator.

Carlson, 41, had planned to go to Lake Clark, where Hetty's family has a cabin, but the weather in that area wasn't good and the mountain pass to the lake can be treacherous. So he headed north to Amber Lake instead.

As Carlson and his family were leaving Lake Hood, Hetty's parents, David and Diane Barnett, were flying back from Lake Clark, trying to get ahead of the weather.

"We passed them, them going out, us coming in," David Barnett said.

Carlson and his father-in-law heard each other on the radio getting clearance from the tower.

Maybe 30 minutes later, all four members of the young Carlson family were dead.

"THE LAST INSTANT"

Witnesses told the National Transportation Safety Board that the Cessna 206 had taken off from a smaller nearby lake and was turning west toward Amber Lake to pick up a relative as the 180 was flying by, said Larry Lewis, National Transportation Safety Board investigator.

Along with a place at Lake Clark, the Barnett family has a small cabin at Amber Lake that Hetty's grandfather built. Carlson likely was preparing to land there for a few hours of fun on shore when the planes collided, David Barnett said.

The weather was good, but it is hard for a pilot to spot another small plane in the sky, Lewis said. Almost three weeks earlier, two planes hit midair in Lake Clark Pass. In that case, both pilots managed to land safely in Anchorage.

Earp told an investigator "he saw the aircraft at the very last instant and tried to steer away from him but couldn't," Lewis said. It appears the other pilot never saw Earp's plane, Lewis said.

The planes were at right angles to each other, like cars pulling up to a four-way stop, except both were moving.

"If you are level with each other, the mountains in the background would obscure the airplane in front of you," Lewis said. "90 degrees to each other -- it's a pretty small target."

Lewis said he's just beginning his investigation. He inspected the crash site Saturday and planned to do a follow-up interview with Earp.

Earp has been with Alaska Airlines 30 years. He has logged 17,000 hours flying Boeing 737s, plus thousands of hours more in other planes, according to spokeswoman Bobbie Egan. Efforts to reach Earp Sunday were unsuccessful.

DEVASTATED FAMILIES

Family members and friends were struggling Sunday to absorb the sudden loss of a couple who seemed to have everything going their way.

Carlson had lived in Alaska since he was 5. He was a standout hockey forward for Service High, and was among the first generation of Alaskans who went Outside to play junior league hockey. He landed a full scholarship at the University of Denver, a Division I school, but suffered a back injury that affected his playing. He earned a master's degree in business and came home to Alaska.

Carlson worked as an Anchorage-based manager for a branch of GE involved in oil and gas production, his father said.

He immersed himself in the pursuits that draw so many here.

"Hunting, fishing, catching shrimp, skiing down the mountains and doing all that young stuff," Don Carlson said. "And when he got married, he decided to get an airplane. He always wanted to fly."

Hetty, 39, was a fourth-generation Alaskan, a graduate of West High School and Colorado State University in Fort Collins, David Barnett said. She returned to Anchorage and worked as a pharmaceutical company representative.

She and Carlson married in Hawaii eight years ago, and when their girls were born, she stayed home to take care of them. Carlson doted on them too and was wonderful to Hetty, Barnett said. They were the dream family.

"It was just too good to be true," Barnett said. "It just doesn't get any better. You just thank God for the things like that."

About six years ago, Carlson began flying. The couple and their girls loved going out in the plane, relatives said.

"That was their minivan," said his sister, Kim Bonebrake, who flew up from Vancouver, Wash., when she heard about the crash. People Outside don't get how important, and common, small planes are up here, she said.

On Saturday, the family clearly planned to be gone just a few hours because they left their beloved dog, Amber, in the yard, Don Carlson said.

Was the dog named after the lake? "No, after the beer," Don Carlson said, chuckling a little.

On Saturday evening, all four parents -- David and Diane Barnett, Don and Pat Carlson -- gathered at the Barnett home, where authorities confirmed what they feared.

Don Carlson said Sunday he was focusing on the many tasks that had to be done. He was trying not to lose himself in grief: "It's almost more than I can handle."

Reach Lisa Demer at ldemer@adn.com or 257-4390.


By LISA DEMER
Anchorage Daily News