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Victims in fatal Merrill Field plane crash identified

Nathaniel Herz
George LaMoureaux of Alaska Sales and Service was one of the first persons on the scene and help put out a fire as a Cessna 150 airplane crashed just after takeoff at the end of the runway at Merrill Field in Anchorage, killing both occupants on Saturday, August 24, 2013.
Bob Hallinen
A Cessna 150 crashed Saturday afternoon, August 24, 2013 at Merrill Field. APD officers report two people dead.
Bob Hallinen
A Cessna 150 airplane crashed just after takeoff at the end of the runway at Merrill Field in Anchorage, AK killing both occupants on Saturday, August 24, 2013. 130824
Bob Hallinen

Note: A new update of this story has been posted here.

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Update, 10:30 a.m. Sunday:

The two people killed in Saturday's plane crash at Merrill Field were Robert Lilly, 31, and Jessi Nelsen, 27, Anchorage Police said on Sunday.

FAA records show Lilly, of Big Lake, was the owner of the plane.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Earlier story:

Two people were killed Saturday when a single-engine plane crashed on takeoff at Merrill Field, according to Anchorage police and witnesses.

Police officers pulled a man and woman from the plane and took them to Alaska Regional Hospital, where they were pronounced dead, said police and fire officials. Their names hadn't been released as of Saturday evening.

Witnesses described seeing the Cessna 150-L flying west as it climbed after takeoff from Merrill's longest runway around 3:30 p.m., then hearing the engine cut out.

"It was going up, and I could hear the engine kind of dying," said Benjo Tadique, a salesman at a nearby car dealership.

The plane turned back to the left towards the airport, Tadique said, but then quickly lost altitude and plunged nose-first into the grass just south of the runway's westernmost end.

"It just went diving down," he said. "I saw it hit the ground. It just--boom. There was a big thud."

The plane's nose was crushed on impact, and its tail partially detached, bending into a 90-degree angle.

A commercial pilot had been at the controls, said National Transportation Safety Board Investigator Josh Cawthra.

Witnesses said the plane appeared to have climbed to an altitude between 100 and 200 feet before losing power.

Another salesman from the car dealership, George LaMoureaux, was the first to arrive at the crash site, after scaling the 10-foot tall barbed-wire-topped fence surrounding the airport.

He said he had been in the process of selling a truck when one of his customers pointed out an airplane that had gone silent.

LaMoureaux ran to the wreckage, where he found the male occupant wedged into the front of the cockpit. A small fire had started at the nose of the Cessna, and LaMoureaux frantically tried to extricate the man, fearful that unused fuel was about to explode, he said.

"I was waiting for the plane to blow any second," LaMoureaux said.

When the man wouldn't move, LaMoureaux tried pushing on the Cessna's wings, to unfold the fuselage to create more space. As he shook the plane, the female passenger fell from the back of the plane, he said.

Both, said LaMoureax, were unconscious, and covered in blood.

Meanwhile, the flames had grown, and LaMoureaux, with the help of first responders, had to empty several fire extinguishers to put the fire out. Police officers ultimately extricated both passengers.

Investigators will release a preliminary report on the crash within the next week, and then a more thorough report could take as long as a year, said Cawthra, the NTSB investigator.


By NATHANIEL HERZ
nherz@adn.com

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