Ten people were killed Sunday when their plane was “engulfed in flames” at the Soldotna Airport in Alaska.
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were still trying to determine what caused the DHC-3T single propeller aircraft, an air taxi owned by Rediske Air, to crash.
The pilot and co-owner of the company, Walter Rediske, 42, was described as “highly experienced” by a spokesman.
Rediske was from Alaska and, although the names of the passengers will not be released by the Soldotna Police Department until next-of-kin are contacted, the department has confirmed that all nine passengers were from South Carolina, according to NBC’s S.C. affiliate, WYFF.
“This is a real hard time for everyone,” said Andrew Harcombe, who also described himself as a family friend.
“Walter was a highly experienced pilot and lifelong Alaskan. We are all in a state of shock.”
He added that the company will cooperate fully with investigators.
Rashah Mcchesney / Peninsula Clarion via AP
Investigators look at the remains of a fixed-wing aircraft that was engulfed in flames Sunday in Soldotna, Alaska.
The Soldotna Police Department said the accident took place around 11:20 a.m. (3:20 p.m. ET), and emergency responders arrived to find the aircraft engulfed in flames.
“We saw the plume immediately when we left the station,” Capt. Lesley Quelland of Central Emergency Services, told the Anchorage Daily News, adding that the big black cloud was visible from the station at least three miles away.
Harcombe said the air charter company only flew in Alaska landing at both airports and more remote locations across the state.
The company, formed in April 1991 is registered to Walter and Lyla Rediske.
NTSB Spokesman Eric Weiss said that everyone aboard the plane was killed after it crashed and that the accident happened upon takeoff.
Weiss said a team of seven from the NTSB would rush to Soldotna on Monday night in order to conduct an immediate investigation of “perishable wreckage,” including fire marks, witness marks, damage to terrain and cellphone evidence.
The first team at the scene of the crash — called a “go-team” — plans to be in Soldotna for five to eight days, said Weiss. The team’s responsibility is not to determine the cause of the crash, but they will send all initial evidence and photographs to Washington D.C. for analysis before the NTSB delves into further investigation of flight records, pilot’s records and medical records, he said.
Soldotna is south of Anchorage on the Kenai Peninsula.
First published July 8 2013, 6:44 PM