The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on Tuesday in Anchorage said that although it had given up hope on recovering any video surveillance from the Soldotna plane crash that killed 10 people on Sunday morning, they had recovered three more cell phones from the crash site -- bringing the total to five -- and were hoping to use GPS data from a flight-tracking service aboard the DHC3 de Havilland Otter to determine more about how the crash occurred.
Forty-two-year-old Nikiski resident Willy Rediske, owner of Rediske Air, piloted the flight departing from Soldotna for Bear Mountain Lodge. He was killed in the crash, along with two families from South Carolina. Husband and wife Milton and Kimberly Antonakos and their three children -- Olivia, Anna and Mills -- were reported among the dead, along with Dr. Chris McManus, his wife Stacey, and their two children Connor and Meghan.
The airport is a relatively small, low-traffic airport, with only one commercial operator based there. Many more use the airport not far down the road in Kenai. Due to that low traffic, there was no one at the airport to observe the the crash that took place around 11:20 a.m. Sunday. That makes the job of the NTSB all the more difficult.
"The question is 'Is this more difficult for us because there are no witnesses or data recorders?,' and the answer is yes," said Earl Weener, NTSB member and part of the "go team" that flew to Alaska from Washington D.C. on Monday to investigate. The NTSB will have to rely on the forensic evidence from the crash in determining the likeliest cause.
He said that the cell phones recovered from the crash site, which will be sent to the NTSB lab in D.C., could provide clues from the moments leading up to the crash. Also possibly aboard the aircraft was a Spidertracks GPS device, which remotely delivers a GPS location to the web so a flight can be monitored in near-real time. In the case of the Otter crash, the device was delivering a location every minute.
The investigation will continue, and only a few new details were available Tuesday. Among them were the way in which the plane hit the ground following takeoff.
"The airplane was airborne prior to its impact with the ground, and it impacted in a right-wing down, nose-low attitude," Weener said, adding that it crashed about 80 feet from the runway. The propeller was also reportedly still spinning at the time of impact, though whether that implied the engine was still operational when the plane crashed or was residual motion wasn't clear.
Weener added that "loss of control" is still a possible cause of the crash, a broad term that could encompass anything from weather-related circumstances to mechanical failure or pilot error.
"There are a number of reasons why you could lose control of an airplane," Weener said. "It could be turbulence, it could be letting the airplane get too slow ... basically it's just one of those things that we would like to identify early on if it's an issue, or it's not an issue."
NTSB investigators said their preliminary investigation should be concluded within 30 days, and the final report could take as long as a year to come out.
Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com