An aircraft reported overdue after departing from Wasilla Sunday was found crashed near Nome Monday, with its pilot and sole occupant dead, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
Alaska State Troopers identified the pilot as 28-year-old Wasilla resident Thomas Grainger, whose family was told about the crash.
NTSB investigator Noreen Price said that the privately operated Cessna 172 was found crashed about 7 miles east of Nome. The plane had been on a flight from Wasilla to Nome Sunday evening, she said, and is believed to have crashed sometime after 10 p.m.
"He texted his fiancee at 9:11 p.m. that he could not land due to weather," Price said.
Price said residents in Nome told authorities they heard and saw the plane flying over the community on Sunday night.
Grainger's last communication came at 10:30 p.m., according to troopers.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer said an alert for the overdue plane was issued at about 6 a.m. Monday. He said the pilot was reportedly flying under visual flight rules and hadn't filed a flight plan.
Nome Search and Rescue crews deployed Monday to find the plane, Price said, including two snowmachiners who headed east after the plane was last heard heading in that direction. The aircraft was discovered around 10 a.m.
After traveling to the scene of the crash, troopers reported that the Cessna was largely intact, Price said. They believe the plane was involved in a "vertical accident," she said – its nose was down and its tail high.
The Iditarod Trail Committee said the plane didn't have any connection with the 1,000-mile race to Nome, which began Monday in Fairbanks.
Both the NTSB and the FAA will be investigating the crash, Price said.
Price and two investigators with the FAA will travel to Nome Tuesday morning. The officials plan to speak with witnesses and examine the scene of the downed plane, as well as coordinate removal of the plane from the site, Price said. That work is expected to last the entire day, she said.
Alaska Dispatch News reporter Jerzy Shedlock contributed to this report.