Investigation into Soldotna crash begins

In stark contrast to the scores who witnessed a 777 crash that killed two in San Francisco the day before, no one saw the crash of a nine-passenger charter plane that killed 10 people in Soldotna Sunday.

All that was known about the crash, as of Monday night, was that the pilot was not able to keep the charter plane airborne and in control, said NTSB board member Earl F. Weener.

“Obviously, it got airborne,” he said during a press conference at the airport, responding to conflicting local accounts of the crash.

The full National Transportation Safety Board investigations team arrived Monday evening in Soldotna where the burned remains of the 1958 de Havilland DHC-3 sat in a small crater, tipped onto what remained of its ride side.

Weener arrived in Soldotna, along with NTSB lead investigator Dan Bower and other team members, in a plane similar to the Rediske Air Otter that crashed Sunday shorty before 11:20 a.m. killing all on board, including the pilot.

A preliminary NTSB report is expected within 30 days.

For much of the coming week, the crash investigation will center on collecting evidence at the airport in Soldotna, then move back to Washington, D.C., Weener said.

The plane sat alongside the runway with most of the fuselage burned away, both wings broken off and propellers bent. All of what remains is expected to help investigators reach some conclusion about what happened and when.

Though the plane was not required to carry flight data recorders, investigators can pull information from all sorts of recording devices, such as cell phones, cameras and other electronics on board. Weener said that at least two cell phones were recovered from the crash site.

Soldotna Police Monday continued working to officially identify the nine passengers who died in the crash, which also killed Nikiski pilot and company owner Walter “Willie” Rediske.

Rediske Air’s main office is in Nikiski with satellite offices in Soldotna and Anchorage.

The Associated Press reported that the crash victims included Melet and Kimberly Antonakos of Greenville, S.C., and their children, Olivia, 16, Mills, 14, and Anastacia, 11. Their identities were confirmed by Kimberly Antonakos’ father, H. Wayne Clayton.

The other victims were radiologist Dr. Chris McManus and Stacey McManus and their two children, also of Greenville, according to South Carolina House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister, a neighbor of the Antonakos family.

Soldotna Airport continued operations intermittently with a few planes landing during Monday’s investigation, depending on the needs of the NTSB, said airport manager Kyle Kornelis. The main runway was open throughout the day. The gravel strip is closed, he said.

“We are cooperating with them while they are here,” Kornelis said.

With no fatal crashes at the Soldotna Airport since his arrival three years ago, Kornelis said Sunday’s tragedy was the worst accident he’s seen.

“Nothing this significant,” he said.

Several memorial services have been arranged in Greenville, S.C., to honor those who died in the crash, The Associated Press reported.

Co-workers of Dr. McManus will gathered at 4 p.m. Wednesday to honor him at the medical auditorium at Greenville Memorial Hospital. McManus worked at Greenville Radiology for 14 years. The service was only for hospital system employees.

The church that the McManus family and the Antonakos family attended is having two memorial services.

Christ Church Episcopal in Greenville will hold a candlelight vigil at 7 p.m. Thursday geared toward youth to remember the five children who died in the crash.

At 11 a.m. Friday, a memorial service will be held at the church to honor both families, according to AP reports