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U.S. investigators en route to scene of fatal Alaska plane crash

Police and emergency personnel stand near the remains of a fixed-wing aircraft that was engulfed in flames at the Soldotna Airport in Soldot
Police and emergency personnel stand near the remains of a fixed-wing aircraft that was engulfed in flames at the Soldotna Airport in Soldot

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - A team of federal safety investigators was headed to Alaska's Kenai Peninsula on Monday to determine why an air taxi plane crashed and burned at an airport in the fishing community of Soldotna, killing all 10 people aboard.

No survivors were found after the single-engine pontoon plane, a de Havilland DHC3 Otter operated by regionally based charter 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 apparently occurred on takeoff and 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 flown on Monday to Alaska, to be joined by an investigator based in the state.

NTSB member Earl Weener told reporters in Anchorage the initial ground investigation would take five to eight days to conduct, and that a final report would probably take a year to complete.

Authorities have not publicly 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.

The nine passengers comprised a family of five and a separate family of four, both from Greenville, South Carolina, who were on vacation and headed for a bear-viewing lodge at Lake Clark in southern Alaska, according to South Carolina-based newspaper The State.

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.

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 3 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.

(Additional reporting by Chris Francescani and Dan Whitcomb; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh)

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