Nine South Carolina residents died in a fiery crash at a small Alaska airport Sunday.
It was the second time in less than two weeks that South Carolinians have died in a plane crash while vacationing in Alaska.
A Havilland DHC3 Otter carrying the pilot and nine passengers caught fire about 11:25 a.m. Sunday at the airport in Soldotna, about 75 miles southwest of Anchorage on the Kenai Peninsula, according to local media and initial reports from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Milton Antonakos, his wife, Kimberly, and their three children — 16-year-old Olivia, 14-year-old Mills and 12-year-old Anna — were on the plane, according to state Rep. Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville, who was a neighbor of the Antonakos family.
Also on the plane were Dr. Chris McManus, his wife, Stacey, and their two children — Connor and Meghan, according to their pastor, Upstate law enforcement officials and family friends.
The plane was registered to Rediske Air of Nikiski. The pilot, who also died, was believed to be owner Walter Rediske.
The plane may have been heading to a Lake Clark bear viewing lodge, according to the Anchorage Daily News.
Mac McGahan, who co-owns the Bear Mountain Lodge on Chinitna Bay, at the southern end of Lake Clark National Park, said the plane was scheduled to come into the lodge Sunday.
The remains of all 10 people were sent to the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Anchorage for autopsies and positive identifications.
Investigators believe they know who the victims were, but are waiting on the medical examiners to confirm it before giving families official notification, Officer Mark Berestoff of the Soldotna Police Department said Monday.
The Alaska State Medical Examiners Office will have to rely on dental records to confirm the identify of the victims, spokesman Greg Wilkinson said Monday. The medical examiners started their work about noon Monday (Alaskan time), and they hope to release the identities to investigators Wednesday, he said.
The S.C. Coroner’s Association offered on Monday to help notify family members, according to Spartanburg County Coroner Rusty Clevenger, who is president of the S.C. Coroner’s Association.
“It’s not a call that any of us like to make, but we do it for the families,” he said.
Initial reports indicate the plane crashed on takeoff, although that has not been officially confirmed. The National Traffic Safety Board has a crew on scene that will issue a report.
Firefighters saw black clouds of smoke coming from the plane as they raced to the airport, Capt. Lesley Quelland told the Anchorage Daily News.
Weather at the time of the crash was reported to be cloudy with a light wind.
The municipal airport is located about a mile from Soldotna’s commercial business area and is adjacent to the Kenai River, according to the city’s website.
The runway is 5,000 feet long and paved.
Two S.C. residents were killed in another plane crash in Alaska last month.
A plane that was part of a tour group crashed about 10:40 a.m. June 28 in Broad Pass near Cantwell. John Ellenberg, 74, of Greenville and Laurie Buckner, 52, of Simpsonville died along with the pilot, Dale Hemman, 61, of Steilacoom, Wash. Hemman was operating a twin-engine Beach Baron 95-B55 for Let’s Fly Alaska. Poor weather was a factor in the crash, according to investigators.
For many Alaskans, flying across the state is common because of the limited road system, exposing residents to a litany of hazards, including treacherous mountain passes and volatile weather. It’s possible to drive from Anchorage to Soldotna, but it’s about a four-hour trip as the highway hugs Turnagain Arm and then cuts through a mountain passage.
The Associated Press contributed to this story. Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553 or twitter.com/dmunday.