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Mark Sorvoja recalls 'indomitable spirit' of his wife, daughter lost in plane crash

Jerzy Shedlock

A plane crash near Rainy Pass along the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race cut short the lives of three Alaskans. Among the victims were an Eagle River woman and her daughter who wanted to volunteer for the iconic race. They once had sponsored musher Eric Rogers and caught the fervor of sled dogs said the woman’s husband.

The Cessna 182 of retired Anchorage Police Sgt. Ted Smith, a pilot of more than 30 years, went missing Monday on a flight to Takotna, a tiny Interior Alaska village and checkpoint along the Iditarod race, now moving north. Alaska Air National Guard spokesperson Kalei Rupp said another plane flying above and along the trail, in tandem, lost track of the Cessna near Rainy Pass.

Pararescuers with the Air Guard located the wreckage Tuesday.

The accident killed the 59-year-old pilot and two passengers, 48-year-old Carolyn Sorvoja and her 10-year-old daughter Rosemarie Sorvoja. All were from Eagle River. Smith lived down the street from the Sorvoja family according to public records.

The plane and those aboard were not part of the Iditarod Air Force, a group of volunteer pilots who ferry supplies and race officials to checkpoints and take dropped dogs back to Anchorage, according to a race spokesperson. Also, the women were not registered volunteers with the Iditarod Trail Committee, and their contacts in Takotna are unknown. There are people who “volunteer” for the race through unofficial channels like school programs, churches and friends who live near the race’s checkpoints, the spokesperson said.

Carolyn spent 9 years in Army

Carolyn Sorvoja homeschooled her children through the Iditarod Area School District based out of McGrath. The mother and her daughter “Rosie” were participating in one of the district’s mini courses, husband Mark Sorvoja said. Carolyn Sorvoja homeschooled all her children: Rose, 8-year-old Samuel and 15-year-old Anna, who now attends public school.

Carolyn Sorvoja was born and raised Cincinnati. She majored in geology, and her first visit to Alaska was during a summer field camp in 1986. She spent nine years as a commissioned officer in the Army, stationed in Alaska. She left military service to marry Mark.

She spent most of her time with the family, but she also managed rentals and volunteered at St. Andrew Catholic Parish in Eagle River, teaching faith formation classes to kids and helping at funerals. Mark said his wife took life by the horns.

“I loved my wife dearly,” he said. “I’ll miss her indomitable spirit.”

'Little spitfire'

Rosemarie Sorvoja shared those strong character traits with her mother. She was a “little spitfire,” according to her father. The daughter was small in size but big in personality, at times mirroring Mark’s mother. Her grandmother adored Rosemarie for that reason.

Samuel and Rosemarie were best friends, Mark Sorvoja said. The siblings spent every waking moment together. They learned together. They played together.

Rosemarie was becoming an accomplished skier, too. A week before the plane crash, Mark took her to Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, which is Alaska’s largest ski area. Rosemary skied very well for someone who had just began, Mark said.

As all young girls do, Rosemarie wished aloud about her future. She loved cats, and she wanted to write a novel about them. Rosemarie would’ve been 11 on May 3.

Contact Jerzy Shedlock at jerzy(at)alaskadispatch.com