Federal investigators have made their way to Soldotna to look for a possible cause of the plane crash that happened late Sunday morning. All 10 people on board were killed.
The fixed-wing aircraft was reportedly engulfed in flames when first responders, including Soldotna Police and Alaska State Troopers, arrived on the scene. Trooper Spokesperson Megan Peters said firefighters were not able to immediately get to the plane because of the flames. Authorities were able to recover all of the remains of the victims and send them to the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Anchorage for positive identification.
Soldotna Police Officer Mark Berestoff said they do have an idea of where the passengers are from.
“We believe that… the passengers that were involved were from South Carolina. And we’re working very closely with the South Carolina authorities to try to identify family members and make confirmation as far as who was here and identification,” he said.
The plane went down a little after 11 a.m. Firefighters and police were still combing through the charred remains of the plane a few hours later when I arrived. It was lying on one side of the runway with the tail partially separated from the body of the aircraft. People were standing in the lot next to the runway watching authorities work. Some were crying while others stood looking shocked. Several vehicles came and went over the course of an hour to catch a glimpse of the wreckage.
One man drove up with a dog in the bed of his truck. As he moved closer, he put his hand against his mouth and shook his head. He said was a friend of the pilot, Rediske Air owner Walter Rediske, but didn’t want to say anything else. Other vehicles pulled up. Some people got out and asked for details, but police were not saying anything at that time.
It’s possible the passengers were either heading to or arriving from Bear Mountain Lodge. It’s located in Chinitna Bay at the southern end of Lake Clark National Park. Co-owner Mac McGahan said he did have flights scheduled with Rediske Air for that day, but declined to say anything else due to the ongoing investigation.
The National Transportation Safety Board has sent investigators from Washington DC to determine what caused the plane to crash and catch fire. According to the National Weather Service, conditions at the time of the crash were cloudy with a temperature of 55 degrees. Winds were out of the west at about 5 miles per hour and there was visibility of about 10 miles.
The plane itself was a de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter. That style of aircraft has a maximum capacity of 11 passengers and was built between 1951 and 1967. The DHC-3 Otter is the same type of craft Senator Ted Stevens and four others were killed in in a crash near Dillingham in August 2010. At the time NTSB investigators ruled out any mechanical problems with the plane as the cause. Instead the report blamed quote “temporary unresponsiveness” on the part of the pilot, Terry Smith.