PALMER -- The small plane that crashed near Chugiak Wednesday morning, killing four people -- including the former National Transportation Safety Board investigator at the controls -- was headed for a nearby survey project in the area of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
Pilot George Kobelnyk, 64; co-pilot Christian Bohrer, 20; and surveyors Kyle Braun, 27, and Sarah Glaves, 36, died in the crash of Kobelnyk's Cessna 172P around 9 a.m., shortly after taking off from the Birchwood Airport.
Braun and Glaves both worked for TerraSond, a ground and ocean surveyor headquartered in an industrial area on the south side of Palmer. The firm has 55 employees and offices in Seattle, Texas and Mexico.
"It's just a complete shock. Our company is stunned by all of this," Scott Schillinger, TerraSond's general counsel, said around noon Thursday. "It's just absolutely devastating to us."
The pair was on the first day of a survey next to JBER, not far from the airport where they took off, Schillinger said.
Federal investigators finished their on-scene work by noon Thursday and removed the wreckage scattered over a 100-yard debris field west of Beach Lake Road near Chugiak, according to NTSB investigator Shaun Williams. The wreckage was taken to a secure facility in the Valley where it will be examined.
The investigation into the crash is still in its infancy. Williams said he expected a preliminary report to be released next week, but the more comprehensive factual report and ensuing probable cause finding are still 12 or 13 months away.
One witness to the plane's takeoff has spoken with the Federal Aviation Administration, but Williams said he had yet to interview them.
Investigating a fatal crash involving a former NTSB investigator is no different than any other aviation incident in which someone dies, he said.
"All accidents with fatalities are difficult," he said. "Every victim, it's somebody a family is missing ... We have to think of that at all times. Everybody is hurting."
Braun, 27, grew up in Butte and loved outdoor activities and photography. He was caring for his mother after his father's death last year. He worked as a drafter for TerraSond.
Braun posted a Thanksgiving greeting on Facebook last November: "Take time today to remember all of the great things in life and how fortunate we are to have all we have. Pay thanks to being surrounded by loved ones or people we hold close to our hearts. Enjoy every moment of time and pay it forward to those whom are less fortunate."
Glaves, 36, has family on the Kenai Peninsula and was an avid painter and musician. She played flute in Mat-Su Concert Band, where she was a steady but fun-loving musician talented enough to participate in a small ensemble.
State Sen. Peter Micciche, who represents Soldotna, met Glaves when they took a class together at Kenai Peninsula College. He called her a "brilliant young woman" who helped put together a trio and surfaced at many musical gatherings.
"Pretty much everything Sarah did made the world a better place," Micciche said.
TerraSond's Palmer offices were somber on Thursday. Employees were still trying to deal with the sudden loss of Braun and Glaves.
"Both of them really are irreplaceable," Schillinger said.
Kobelnyk, a veteran NTSB investigator, left that agency in the 1990s to serve as a senior manager with the Federal Aviation Administration. He remained a highly certificated pilot who flew daily, family members said.
Bohrer was a Chugiak native and avid aviator who played high school baseball and loved to take pictures from his plane. A junior majoring in mathematics at the University of Alaska Anchorage, Bohrer was a member of the Seawolf Debate Team and made it to the final round of the March competition.
Zaz Hollander serves on the board of directors for the Mat-Su Concert Band, where Sarah Glaves was also a member.