An air taxi crashed at the Soldotna Airport on Sunday morning, killing all 10 people onboard in the worst aviation accident in Alaska in at least 25 years.
The de Havilland DHC-3 Otter airplane crashed at 11:20 a.m. at the Soldotna Airport, according to the Alaska State Troopers and Soldotna Police Department.
The plane was operated by Rediske Air, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
The National Transportation Safety Board described the flight as an air taxi, but on Sunday evening was still trying to confirm who was onboard and where they were going.
The NTSB's Clint Johnson said an initial report from someone at the small airport indicated the plane was taking off.
The person saw the plane taxiing out for takeoff but didn't see any actual takeoff attempt.
"The next thing they knew is they saw it on fire, unfortunately, after the accident," Johnson said. The investigation is still in early stages and nothing is confirmed about what went wrong, he said.
The Soldotna Airport is a municipal airstrip with a single paved 5,000-foot long runway adjacent to the Kenai River. The airport is busy in the summer months with fishing, hunting and sight-seeing flights that take off from the Kenai Peninsula town.
engulfed in flames
Fire crews got the call for help at 11:24 a.m. and were the first to get to the burning plane, said Capt. Lesley Quelland of Central Emergency Services, which handles fire and medic calls from Cooper Landing to Clam Gulch.
"We saw the plume immediately when we left the station," Quelland said Sunday evening. It was a big, black cloud of smoke visible from the station, about three driving miles from the airport, she said. Campers at the nearby Klondike RV Park also saw smoke, owner Al Belknap said.
When fire crews got to the airport about 11:30 a.m., "the aircraft was crashed off the side of the runway and it was fully involved in flames," she said.
It took crews about 10 minutes to put out the fire and look for survivors. There were none, and no one made it out. Everyone died inside the plane, she said.
Quelland said she knows of no eyewitnesses to the crash.
Names of the crash victims have not yet been released, pending positive identification of their bodies by the state medical examiner and notification of their next-of-kin, said the Soldotna Police Department.
The pilot was Walter Rediske, said Andrew Harcombe, who identified himself as a spokesman for Rediske Air. Public records list Rediske's age as 42.
Rediske Air is a family-owned business on the Kenai Peninsula that offers air charter services, Harcombe said.
The company is registered to Lyla and Walter Rediske, with an address in Nikiski, according to the state's Division of Corporations, Business and Professional Licensing. It was formed in 1991.
Harcombe said Rediske was a "highly experienced" pilot and lifelong Alaskan.
The de Havilland DHC-3 Otter airplane had a single turbo-prop engine and was manufactured in 1958, according to FAA records.
The cause of the crash has not been determined. The weather was reported to be cloudy with a light wind at the time of the crash, troopers said.
Much of the plane burned, said Johnson, the head of the NTSB's Anchorage office.
NTSB investigator Chris Shaver was at the scene looking for witnesses and clues, Johnson said.
A national NTSB "go-team" was on its way to Alaska on Sunday night to investigate the crash because of the number of fatalities, he said. A team of at least eight people from Washington, D.C., will handle the investigation, led by accident investigator Dan Brower.
The crash is one of the deadliest in decades in a state with many fatal aviation accidents.
In 2001, a Peninsula Airways commuter plane bound for King Salmon crashed in Dillingham, killing nine of the 10 people aboard.
In 1987, a Beechcraft 1900C Ryan Air flight crashed in Homer, killing 18 people.
The last major crash at the Soldotna airport was in 1985, when a North Pacific Air Beechcraft 65-A80 crashed, killing nine.
Alaska plane crashes
• Oct. 10, 2001 -- Peninsula Airways Cessna 208 Caravan commuter plane crashed shortly after takeoff from Dillingham, killing 9
• July 30, 2001 -- LAB Flying Service Piper PA-32-300 crashes at Haines, killing 6
• Feb. 5, 2000 -- Iliamna Air Cessna U206G crashes at Iliamna, killing 6
• Dec. 7, 1999 -- Grant Aviation Cessna 207 crashed at Bethel, killing 6
• Nov. 8, 1997 -- Hageland Aviation Cessna 208B crashed at Barrow, killing 8
• Sept. 22, 1995 --Air Force E3B AWACS crashed at Elmendorf AFB, killing 24
• Jun. 22, 1994 -- Wings of Alaska DeHavilland DHC-3 crashed at Juneau, killing 7
• Nov. 12, 1992 -- Alaska National Guard C-12F Beechcraft crashed near Juneau, killing 8
• Dec. 23, 1987 -- Southcentral Air Piper PA-31 crashed in Kenai, killing 6
• Nov. 23, 1987 -- Ryan Air Beechcraft 1900C crashes in Homer, killing 18
• Aug. 25, 1985 -- Flightseeing Cessna 180H and Piper J5A spotting sheep collided near Knik Glacier, killing 12
• Feb. 4, 1985 -- North Pacific Air Beechcraft 65-A80 crashes in Soldotna, killing 9
-- Anchorage Daily Newsde Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter
Capacity: 9 to 10 passengers
Length: 41 feet, 10 inches
Wingspan: 58 feet
Height: 12 feet, 7 inches
Empty weight: 4,431 pounds
Maximum takeoff weight: 8,000 pounds
Powerplant: 1 Pratt & Whitney 9-cylinder, air-cooled radial engine, 600 horsepower
Maximum speed: 160 mph
Cruise speed: 121 mph at sea level
Stall speed: 58 mph
Range: 945 miles
Service ceiling: 18,800 feet
Rate of climb: 850 feet a minute
By MICHELLE THERIAULT BOOTS and LISA DEMER
Anchorage Daily News