Two pilots were killed when a small commercial plane crashed southeast of Bethel late Tuesday afternoon, authorities said.
Officials said Hageland Aviation pilots Derrick Cedars, 42, and Greggory McGee, 46, were on a training flight when the Cessna 208 Caravan they were flying crashed in the Three Steps Mountain area about 30 miles southeast of Bethel. The crash occurred about 3:56 p.m., officials said, and a local pilot spotted the burning wreckage about two and a half hours later.
No passengers were on the plane. In a statement, Ravn Alaska, Hageland's parent company, described the weather conditions as "calm and clear."
A team led by the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the crash.
Cedars, of Bethel, was hired by Hageland in 2002 and was the company's lead pilot in Bethel, according to Steve Smith, a spokesman for Ravn Alaska.
McGee, of Anchorage, was a new employee, Smith said. He and his wife recently moved to Anchorage from Oklahoma City, said the Rev. Michael Burke, the rector of St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Anchorage, where the couple were members.
Early Wednesday morning, Burke wrote an email to the congregation about the crash. McGee's wife, Jocelyn Shealy McGee, is an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
"I think people are very shocked and saddened," Burke said. "This was a very, very talented pilot, a very wonderful man. Just a great heart for people and for service."
Cedars, married with two children, attended UAA and "was a great friend and a great colleague," said Anna Simmons, who co-owned a real estate business and several properties with Cedars.
In a phone call from Texas, Simmons said her husband, who works at Hageland Aviation and had flown with Cedars for years, was on his way to Alaska to help with memorial arrangements.
Ravn Alaska said in a statement that the president of Hageland Aviation, Jim Hickerson, met with McGee's wife Tuesday night and was on his way to meet Cedars' family Wednesday morning.
"When you have a family as close as ours at Hageland Aviation, you hope you never receive this sort of news," Hageland said in the statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of Greggory and Derrick as well as all those who have had a chance to work with them."
Authorities were first told the plane was overdue about 6:15 p.m. Tuesday, said Megan Peters, a spokeswoman for the Alaska State Troopers. Shortly after, a local pilot who had flown to the Three Step Mountain area to look for it saw the burning wreckage near a fishing weir.
In response, the Alaska Army Guard in Bethel sent out a Black Hawk helicopter carrying local firefighters and troopers, Peters wrote. The responders found a "large debris field" at the crash site and willow trees charred and burned, she said.
The remains of the pilots were found in the wreckage, Peters said. She said troopers planned to return to the site Wednesday to assist in recovery efforts. Troopers said in a statement later that logistical issues prevented them from doing so and they would make another attempt Thursday.
Troopers were working to get transportation to the crash site, Peters said.
The National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation into the crash. An investigator with the NTSB office in Anchorage was en route to the site Wednesday morning, said Clint Johnson, head of the NTSB's Alaska region office.
The NTSB will be joined at the crash site Wednesday by a representative from Ravn Alaska, a Federal Aviation Administration investigator in Bethel and a Cessna aircraft investigator, Johnson said.
On Nov. 29, a Hageland Aviation Cessna 208 crashed near the village of St. Marys in Southwest Alaska. The NTSB is also investigating that crash, which killed four people and injured six.
Reach Devin Kelly at email@example.com or 257-4314.
By DEVIN KELLY