A longtime Aniak pilot died in the crash of a small plane near Chuathbaluk late Tuesday as a snowstorm struck the Kuskokwim River village, according to Alaska State Troopers.
Stephen Hill, 61, was the lone occupant of the Inland Aviation Services Cessna 207 that went down, troopers said. Hill founded and co-owned Inland Aviation Services, an Aniak-based charter flight service, according to business records and another owner of the company.
About 7 p.m. Tuesday, Hill took off from Aniak headed to Chuathbaluk, troopers said. The villages are about 10 miles apart, and, according to Inland Aviation, Hill was scheduled to pick up a passenger. A Chuathbaluk resident reported the runway lights in the village activated, indicating the plane was near, but Hill's Cessna never arrived, troopers said.
Troopers said a snow squall struck the area about the same time, making landing almost impossible, and villagers reported hearing a plane stall a little while later. Troopers arrived in Chuathbaluk about 9:15 p.m. and searched the area with volunteers. About 1:45 a.m. Wednesday they found Hill and the plane about three miles southwest of Chuathbaluk in an area covered with trees, troopers said.
The plane was destroyed, and Hill appeared to have died on impact, troopers said.
The National Transportation Safety Board was en route to Aniak on Wednesday morning to look into the crash, an investigator said.
It's the second fatal plane crash this year for Inland Aviation.
In August, Aniak pilot Ernest Chase, 66, and Anvik teacher Julia Walker, 52, died when a Cessna 207 operated by Inland flew into poor weather and collided with a mountain 37 miles west of McGrath, according to troopers and an NTSB report issued after the crash. Four others on the plane -- a mother and father set to start their first year teaching in the Bush and their two children -- were injured but survived the impact.
Mike Murphy, co-owner of Inland and Hill's longtime friend, declined to elaborate on what Tuesday's crash meant for the company.
"It isn't good," he said.
Hill had lived in Aniak since the mid-1970s and started Inland Aviation in the mid-'90s, Murphy said.
"He built that business on his back," Murphy said. "Steve was a straight-up, honest kind of guy, who helped pretty much everybody. That community is going to suffer because of this loss."
Reach Casey Grove at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4589.
By CASEY GROVE
Anchorage Daily News