A plane crash in Willow on Wednesday evening left a young pilot dead and two passengers injured, according to Alaska State Troopers.
Troopers identified the pilot as 24-year-old Colt Richter. He was flying for Regal Air, an air taxi and flightseeing company based in Anchorage, troopers said.
Richter was piloting a single-engine de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver, said Noreen Price, aviation accident investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board in Alaska. The commercial, chartered flight was leaving from Willow Lake and headed to a lake north of Skwentna with two passengers on board: a woman and her 2-year-old child, plus cargo.
Price said that, according to the passenger, Richter made two unsuccessful attempts to take off from Willow Lake around 7 p.m. Witnesses said the plane looked heavy. On the third attempt, the floatplane took off. It crashed soon after.
"Shortly after takeoff the airplane descended, lost control and impacted a wooded residential lot about a half a mile southeast of Willow Lake," Price said.
Neighbors heard the crash, called 911 and responded to the site, she said.
The passenger said Richter was not responsive when she and her child got out of the plane, Price said.
"The airplane then quickly became engulfed in flames," Price said.
Emergency responders arrived quickly to the crash site, she said. The woman passenger and her child were taken to the hospital with serious injuries that were not life-threatening.
The crash sparked a wildfire that was brought under control Wednesday night.
Price said the NTSB continues to investigate the cause of the crash, which will include looking at the weight and balance of the floatplane, as well as reviewing witness videos and statements. The charred remains of the plane were being removed Thursday and taken to a secured facility for further examination, she said.
"The airplane came to rest nose down and was completely destroyed by fire except for the wings and engine," she said.
A woman who answered the phone at Regal Air on Thursday declined to comment.
Denise Wike, a legal adviser at the Anchorage Youth Court, said she worked closely with Richter when he was in high school. He served as a defense attorney and chief judge on the court, volunteering more than 350 hours of his time.
"He was really, really nice and sweet," she said. "He was really good to the other youth and helped mentor them."
Richter went on to college at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she said. According to a student profile about him on MIT's website, Richter got his pilot's license when he turned 17.
"Richter's grandfather was a pilot in World War II, and later became a commercial airline pilot, moving the family to Alaska after he secured a job with Japan Airlines," the profile said. "As a child, Richter flew small planes with his father and received his pilot's license on his 17th birthday."