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Victims in fatal western Alaska crash "normal, average everyday people"

Devin Kelly

On Saturday in the western Alaska community of Mountain Village, the normally-bustling Alaska Commercial Company general store was withdrawn and quiet.

The plane crash outside St. Marys that claimed four lives Friday night has "taken everybody back a little bit," store manager Michael Sturkey said in a phone interview. All of the passengers aboard the plane live in Mountain Village -- "normal, average, everyday people," he said.

Alaska State Troopers identified the dead as pilot Terry Hanson, 68, and passengers Richard Polty, 65, Rose Polty, 57, and Wyatt Coffee, a 5-month-old. The survivors were identified as the baby's mother, Melanie Coffee, 25; Pauline Johnson, 37; Kylan Johnson, 14; Tanya Lawrence, 35; Shannon Lawrence; and Garrett Moses, 30. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause and circumstances of the crash, which was reported about 6:34 p.m. on Friday.

Daisy Coffee, the mother of Melanie Coffee and the grandmother of Wyatt Coffee, said in a brief telephone interview that the family was "not blaming anybody right now."

"Because nothing can bring the baby back to life," she said.

She said Melanie Coffee underwent surgery on her arm at an Anchorage hospital and was recovering.

Sturkey knew Richard and Rose Polty through their son, Ryan Polty, who used to work at the general store. The Poltys, who were retired, loved to spend time with their grandchildren, Sturkey said. Richard Polty used to bring his grandson into the store every day to buy candy.

"That's going to be the sad part," Sturkey said. "That little kid is not going to understand why his grandfather isn't around anymore."

Sturkey did not know why the Poltys were on the plane. He said he last saw Richard Polty on Wednesday, when they shook hands, and Polty said he'd see him when he got back from his trip.

"He was a really nice, easygoing guy," Sturkey said.

Sturkey was also on first-name terms with pilot Hanson, who occasionally brought groceries and freight to the store. As the manager of the village's only general store, Sturkey was familiar with most of the people aboard the flight, he said.

Susie Makaily, a member of the Lower Yukon Regional School Board, said the crash has shaken the entire Yukon River Delta community. Tanya Lawrence, who survived the crash along with her daughter Shannon, worked as a secretary for the school district maintenance department, Makaily said.

"I keep telling myself, we were just not in control," she said.

Reach Devin Kelly at dkelly@adn.com or 257-4314.


By DEVIN KELLY
dkelly@adn.com