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NTSB probing plane's weight, balance at time of Soldotna crash

Michelle Theriault Boots
Police and emergency personnel stand near the remains of a de Havilland DHC-3 Otter that was engulfed in flames Sunday July 7, 2013 at the Soldotna Airport in Soldotna, Alaska. Authorities say an air taxi has crashed, killing all 10 people on board. The plane was operated by Rediske Air, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Rashah McChesney
A small memorial appears Tuesday July 9, 2013 near the site of a plane crash that killed 10 people at the Soldotna Airport in Soldotna, Alaska last Sunday, July 7, 2013.
Rashah McChesney
A National Transportation Safety Board investigator on the scene of Sunday's plane crash in Soldotna that killed 10.
NTSB photo
National Transportation and Safety Board go-team members examine the remains of an aircraft wreck on Monday, July 8, 2013 in Soldotna, Alaska. The de Havilland DHC3 Otter crashed and burned Sunday, July 7, 2013 at the airport in Soldotna, about 75 miles southwest of Anchorage on the Kenai Peninsula. The plane had just taken off and apparently was en route to a fishing lodge, according to National Transportation Safety Board investigator Clint Johnson. All ten people aboard were killed. (AP Photo/Peninsula Clarion, Rashah McChesney)
Rashah McChesney
A neighbor holds a 2012 Christmas card showing Mills Antonakos, left, Olivia Antonakos, center, and Anastacia Antonakos, Tuesday, July 9, 2013, in Greenville, S.C. The three children died, along with their parents and four members of another family in a plane crash while they were on vacation in Alaska.
Jeffrey Collins
National Transportation and Safety Board go-team members examine the remains of an aircraft wreck on Monday, July 8, 2013 in Soldotna, Alaska. The de Havilland DHC3 Otter crashed and burned Sunday, July 7, 2013 at the airport in Soldotna, about 75 miles southwest of Anchorage on the Kenai Peninsula. The plane had just taken off and apparently was en route to a fishing lodge, according to National Transportation Safety Board investigator Clint Johnson. All ten people aboard were killed. (AP Photo/Peninsula Clarion, Rashah McChesney)
Rashah McChesney
A small memorial appears Tuesday July 9, 2013 near the site of a plane crash that killed 10 people at the Soldotna Airport in Soldotna, Alaska last Sunday, July 7, 2013.
Rashah McChesney
courtesy The State (Columbia, S.C.) Dr. Chris McManus, right, and his wife, Stacey, of Greenville, South Carolina were among those killed in a de Havilland DHC-3 Otter plane crash Sunday, July 7, 2013 in Soldotna.
courtesy The State (Columbia, S.C.)
National Transportation and Safety Board go-team members examine the remains of an aircraft wreck on Monday, July 8, 2013 in Soldotna, Alaska. The de Havilland DHC3 Otter crashed and burned Sunday, July 7, 2013 at the airport in Soldotna, about 75 miles southwest of Anchorage on the Kenai Peninsula. The plane had just taken off and apparently was en route to a fishing lodge, according to National Transportation Safety Board investigator Clint Johnson. All ten people aboard were killed. (AP Photo/Peninsula Clarion, Rashah McChesney)
Rashah McChesney
The flag was at half-staff at the Rediske Air office on Monday, July 8, 2013 in Nikiski.
LISA DEMER
National Transportation and Safety Board go-team members examine the remains of an aircraft wreck on Monday, July 8, 2013 in Soldotna, Alaska. The de Havilland DHC3 Otter crashed and burned Sunday, July 7, 2013 at the airport in Soldotna, about 75 miles southwest of Anchorage on the Kenai Peninsula. The plane had just taken off and apparently was en route to a fishing lodge, according to National Transportation Safety Board investigator Clint Johnson. All ten people aboard were killed. (AP Photo/Peninsula Clarion, Rashah McChesney)
Rashah McChesney
NTSB and FAA investigators comb over the de Havilland DHC-3 Otter crash site Monday afternoon, July 8, 2013 in Soldotna. The national NTSB "go-team" arrived early in the evening to take charge of the investigation.
LISA DEMER
courtesy The State (Columbia, S.C.) Dr. Chris McManus, right, and his wife, Stacey, of Greenville, South Carolina were among those killed in a de Havilland DHC-3 Otter plane crash Sunday, July 7, 2013 in Soldotna.
courtesy The State (Columbia, S.C.)
Dan Bower, NTSB lead investigator on Sunday's de Havilland DHC-3 Otter crash, tells reporters about the process Monday, July 8, 2013 in Soldotna.
LISA DEMER
The flag was at half-staff at the Rediske Air office on Monday, July 8, 2013 in Nikiski.
LISA DEMER
Both wings were ripped off the Otter when it crashed and much of the plane was damaged by the fire that erupted, National Transportation Safety Board member Earl Weener told reporters on Monday evening, July 8, 2013 in Soldotna.
LISA DEMER
NTSB and FAA investigators comb over the de Havilland DHC-3 Otter crash site Monday afternoon, July 8, 2013 in Soldotna. The national NTSB "go-team" arrived early in the evening to take charge of the investigation.
LISA DEMER
NTSB representative Earl Weener speaks to the media in Anchorage on Monday, July 8, 2013, about the investigation into the fatal airplane crash in Soldotna on Sunday.
Bill Roth
Dan Bower, NTSB lead investigator on Sunday's de Havilland DHC-3 Otter crash, tells reporters about the process Monday, July 8, 2013 in Soldotna.
LISA DEMER
NTSB and FAA investigators comb over the de Havilland DHC-3 Otter crash site Monday afternoon, July 8, 2013 in Soldotna. The national NTSB "go-team" arrived early in the evening to take charge of the investigation.
LISA DEMER
Both wings were ripped off the Otter when it crashed and much of the plane was damaged by the fire that erupted, National Transportation Safety Board member Earl Weener told reporters on Monday evening, July 8, 2013 in Soldotna.
LISA DEMER
NTSB investigators answer questions Monday evening July 8, 2013 at the Soldotna airport.
LISA DEMER
NTSB representative Earl Weener speaks to the media in Anchorage on Monday, July 8, 2013, about the investigation into the fatal airplane crash in Soldotna on Sunday.
Bill Roth
This de Havilland DHC-3 Otter airplane operated by Rediske Air in Nikiski crashed at 11:20 a.m. at the Soldotna Airport on Sunday, July 7, 2013, killing 10 people including the pilot.
unknown
NTSB and FAA investigators comb over the de Havilland DHC-3 Otter crash site Monday afternoon, July 8, 2013 in Soldotna. The national NTSB "go-team" arrived early in the evening to take charge of the investigation.
LISA DEMER
Investigators examine the remains of a fixed-wing aircraft that was engulfed in flames Sunday July 7, 2013 at the Soldotna Airport in Soldotna, Alaska. Authorities say an air taxi has crashed, killing all 10 people on board. The plane was operated by Rediske Air, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Rashah McChesney
NTSB investigators answer questions Monday evening July 8, 2013 at the Soldotna airport.
LISA DEMER
National Transportation Safety Board investigators on the scene of Sunday's plane crash in Soldotna that killed 10.
NTSB photo
Investigators look at the remains of a fixed-wing aircraft that was engulfed in flames Sunday July 7, 2013 at the Soldotna Airport in Soldotna, Alaska. Authorities say an air taxi has crashed, killing all 10 people on board. The plane was operated by Rediske Air, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Rashah McChesney
This de Havilland DHC-3 Otter airplane operated by Rediske Air in Nikiski crashed at 11:20 a.m. at the Soldotna Airport on Sunday, July 7, 2013, killing 10 people including the pilot.
unknown
A National Transportation Safety Board investigator on the scene of Sunday's plane crash in Soldotna that killed 10.
NTSB photo
Police and emergency personnel stand near the remains of a de Havilland DHC-3 Otter that was engulfed in flames Sunday July 7, 2013 at the Soldotna Airport in Soldotna, Alaska. Authorities say an air taxi has crashed, killing all 10 people on board. The plane was operated by Rediske Air, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Rashah McChesney
Investigators examine the remains of a fixed-wing aircraft that was engulfed in flames Sunday July 7, 2013 at the Soldotna Airport in Soldotna, Alaska. Authorities say an air taxi has crashed, killing all 10 people on board. The plane was operated by Rediske Air, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Rashah McChesney
A neighbor holds a 2012 Christmas card showing Mills Antonakos, left, Olivia Antonakos, center, and Anastacia Antonakos, Tuesday, July 9, 2013, in Greenville, S.C. The three children died, along with their parents and four members of another family in a plane crash while they were on vacation in Alaska.
Jeffrey Collins
National Transportation Safety Board investigators on the scene of Sunday's plane crash in Soldotna that killed 10.
NTSB photo
Investigators look at the remains of a fixed-wing aircraft that was engulfed in flames Sunday July 7, 2013 at the Soldotna Airport in Soldotna, Alaska. Authorities say an air taxi has crashed, killing all 10 people on board. The plane was operated by Rediske Air, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Rashah McChesney

Federal investigators trying to determine what caused an air taxi to crash on takeoff at the Soldotna Municipal Airport on Sunday, killing all 10 people aboard, are studying maintenance records and interviewing friends and family of the pilot to reconstruct the 72 hours leading up to the accident.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators are paying particular attention to the weight and balance of the plane, which was loaded with nine passengers, baggage and some supplies for the planned trip to a remote bear viewing lodge on the Alaska Peninsula, said National Transportation Safety Board member Earl Weener at a press briefing in Anchorage on Wednesday.

Lacking eyewitnesses or video surveillance, the team is hoping the wreckage and records will offer clues as to what brought the plane down. No radio traffic of the moments leading up to the crash was recorded because the small Soldotna airport doesn't have a control tower, said NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson.

The team of seven investigators spent their second full day at the crash site in Soldotna moving the accident wreckage from an area near the runway into a hangar, Weener said. They discovered a large "ground scar" where the engine hit when they moved the plane, he said.

It's not yet known whether the engine was running when the crash happened, said NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson.

"That's something we're working to develop," Knudson said. "There was bending of the propeller that's consistent with the propeller running at the time of the accident."

The engine has been sent to its manufacturer, Honeywell, for analysis, Weener said.

The investigators say they know the pilot himself loaded the plane with nine passengers and their baggage for an overnight at Bear Mountain Lodge. Weener said Rediske was also carrying food and supplies to the lodge, though he said he didn't know how much.

The team is sifting through pilot and maintenance records on the de Havilland DHC-3 turbine engine plane, which Weener said was used regularly by Rediske Air. The company owns five other planes, family and operator spokesman Andrew Harcombe said earlier this week.

Weener also said the flight was operating under FAA "Part 135" rules, which govern all commercial flights and are more stringent than "Part 91" rules for non-commercial generation aviation flight.

The investigators will spend several more days in Soldotna before returning to Washington, D.C., Weener said. Some parts of the airplane wreckage that warrant a closer look may be sent to a lab there.

"We're still really at the beginning of our investigation," he said.

A report that could include the probable cause of the crash is expected within 30 days.

 

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

 

 


By MICHELLE THERIAULT BOOTS
mtheriault@adn.com