U.S. investigators en route to scene of fatal Alaska plane crash
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - A "go team" of federal safety investigators was en route to Alaska's Kenai Peninsula on Monday to determine why a float plane crashed and burned at an airport in the fishing community of Soldotna, killing all 10 people on board.
No survivors were found after the plane, a de Havilland DHC3 Otter operated by local air-taxi company Rediske Air, crashed at the airport in Soldotna, about 80 miles southwest of Anchorage, shortly after 11 a.m. local time on Sunday.
National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Eric Weiss said the crash was considered a high priority for the agency, because the plane was an air-taxi, which is held to a higher standard than general aviation aircraft.
Weiss said a six-person NTSB "go team" had been assembled to probe the causes of the crash and was flying to Soldotna on Monday, where it would be joined by an investigator based in Alaska.
Authorities have not identified any of the crash victims, but the Anchorage Daily News reported that the pilot was 42-year-old Walter Rediske, co-owner of Rediske Air.
The Soldotna Police Department said all of the passengers were believed to be from South Carolina and that it was working with authorities there to notify next of kin.
Soldotna police officials said all 10 bodies had been recovered and sent to the state medical examiner's office in Anchorage for identification and autopsies.
Rediske Air provides sightseeing charters and air-taxi services, according to a profile with the Better Business Bureau. A spokeswoman for the company declined comment on Monday.
Clint Johnson, a spokesman for the NTSB, told the Daily News that an initial report from a witness at the small airport indicated the plane was taking off when it crashed.
"The next thing they knew is they saw it on fire, unfortunately, after the accident," Johnson told the paper.
Captain Lesley Quelland of Central Emergency Services told the Daily News that the agency's fire crews were first to reach the burning plane and "saw the plume immediately when we left the station," some three miles away.
When firefighters arrived on scene, she said, "the aircraft was crashed off the side of the runway and it was fully involved in flames."
The crash came a day after an Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 with more than 300 people on board crashed while landing at San Francisco's airport on Saturday, killing two Chinese teenagers and injuring more than 180 people.
The mountainous Kenai Peninsula, south of Anchorage, is a popular destination for tourists, fishermen and hikers.