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Emotions overflow as Soldotna crash victims remembered

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
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
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

Just last Saturday, 11-year-old Ana Antonakos text messaged a photo of herself and her older sister, Olivia, to a few friends.

Behind them was a beautiful Alaskan landscape, the place they and their family and friends had traveled so far to see.

They had planned this 10-day vacation for months, an adventure for a family of adventurous people, Melet, the father; Kim, the mother; Olivia, 16, Mills, 14, and Ana. Longtime friends Chris McManus and his wife, Stacey, and their children, Meghan and Connor, were on the trip as well.

The next day, they all died in a plane crash at the Soldotna Municipal Airport. It was to have been a short flight to a lodge at Lake Clark National Preserve in southern Alaska.

The pilot of the single-engine plane died also.

"They were having a blast," said Merritt Byrd, 19, a neighbor whose younger sister received the photo.

Investigators don't know what happened on board, whether it was a mechanical problem, pilot error, an imbalance in the distribution of the weight or something else. It could take a year to know.

What people in Greenville know is the community has lost nine members of two families - well-respected, civic-minded people.

Dozens of people showed up Tuesday outside the Antonakos house on Montrose Drive. Young or middle-aged, they all said basically the same thing: They couldn't believe their friends were gone.

A guest book had been put on a table outside the ranch-style house and one by one, students from J.L. Mann, Beck Academy and Christ Church Episcopal School signed it, their emotions overflowing. They talked silently. They cried. And they laughed when they remembered the good times.

Less than two miles away, at the McManus home, the mood was somber.

Half a dozen cars sat parked in the driveway and along the cul-de-sac in front of the upscale tan brick home.

Larry McManus, Chris McManus' older brother from Chapel Hill, N.C., had been designated as the family spokesman.

Outside in the driveway, he recalled growing up with his brother in Newberry, where Chris had played football - right guard and right tackle - at Newberry High School.

The brothers were close in age. At the time of his death, Chris was 46. Larry is 47.

Besides playing football Chris had always loved science as a kid, Larry McManus said. But his real love was in the band - his future wife, Stacey. "They had dated since they were 14," McManus said.

After high school, they both went to the College of Charleston. Chris graduated in 1989, his brother said.

"He always wanted to be a doctor," he said. "I think it was really just a desire to help people."

Chris McManus, a radiologist with Greenville Health System at the time of his death, had come to Greenville as part of a pilot program at the hospital for the University of South Carolina Medical School in the early 1990s, his brother said.

Chris McManus was the inspiration behind the Alaska excursion the two families had taken, according to his brother.

TROUBLE IN THE AIR

The Greenville families were flying to a lodge to spend time watching bears.

Their pilot was 42-year-old Walter "Willie" Rediske.

Flying airplanes in the wilds of Alaska is a challenge for even the most experienced pilots, and sooner or later everyone who does it is bound to crash, according to a former Alaskan bush pilot who knew Rediske.

"If you stick around up there long enough, you're going to end up bending some metal, as they say," said Max Conrad, who now lives in Columbia. "It's risky business."

Conrad spent six years in Alaska where he learned to fly and then worked as a pilot, ferrying people and cargo across the state. He flew in and out of the Soldotna Municipal Airport where the crash occurred Sunday morning shortly after take off.

The two families were flying in a de Havilland DHC-3 Otter, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The risks for pilots in Alaska are many, Conrad said.

Runways are short. The terrain is brutal. Weather is unpredictable,.

Take off is the most critical phase of a flight and lots of things can factor into crashes, he said. At the Soldotna airport, if a pilot realizes there is a problem after take off, he doesn't have much space to turn around because of buildings and terrain.

"At that airport, you don't have a lot of options," he said.

Conrad said he knew the pilot and his family. Rediske's family ran an airplane service out of the Soldotna airport, and the pilot had grown up flying airplanes. The family had a reputation for skilled piloting and for never taking shortcuts on airplane maintenance, he said.

"It's a pretty tight community up there," he said. "Everyone kind of knows everybody there."

And the Otter is a popular plane for Alaskan bush pilots, Conrad said.

"It's one of the workhorse airplanes of Alaska," he said.

But Conrad said every pilot he knows who has spent years flying around Alaska has crashed.

He also said bush pilots have a tough time making money. Fuel, airplane parts and insurance are expensive.

Conrad left Alaska for a job that involves less risk. He now flies for a commercial airline.

Reporters Lyn Riddle, Ron Barnett, Liv Osby and David Dykes of the Greenville News and Noelle Phillips of The State contributed.

 

 



The Greenville News and The State