The National Transportation Safety Board is looking into whether weight distribution played a role in a Sunday plane crash at the Soldotna airport that killed 10 people, including two South Carolina families.
Passengers killed in the de Havilland DHC-3 Otter’s crash, all from Greenville, S.C., included Milton and Kimberly Antonakos, as well as their three children Olivia, Anastacia and Mills. Another family, Chris and Stacy McManus and their two children, also died in the crash.
At a Wednesday press conference, NTSB board member Earl Weener says the Otter has been removed from the point where it crashed on takeoff, 88 feet away from the airport’s runway, and taken to a secure hangar. Moving the aircraft exposed a crash scar on the ground that provides some clues to the plane’s direction and speed, although Weener says it won’t yield the plane’s precise velocity. The plane’s attitude when it crashed right wing first was consistent with a stall, but other factors may have contributed.
Weener says the plane’s operator, Nikiski-based Rediske Air, handled loading the aircraft. Owner Willy Rediske, the plane’s pilot, was responsible for the passengers and their baggage, while another handler was responsible for cargo. No larger items were being flown with the aircraft to its destination, a bear viewing lodge, and investigators believe they know where everyone was sitting on board the Otter.
"Our understanding is that we had nine passengers with baggage, but not a lot of baggage because they were only going to stay one night," Weener said.
Many of Wednesday’s questions focused on the weight and balance of the aircraft, potentially deadly factors if the plane was overloaded or a load shifted the aircraft’s center of gravity outside safe limits. Both elements were cited in an NTSB report on the June 2010 crash of a Cessna 206 near Anchorage’s Merrill Field that killed 4-year-old Myles Cavner; Weener says they’re also under investigation in this week’s crash, despite some materials being burned away by a fire at the scene.
"We will be conducting our own independent investigation to determine what the weight and balance situation was," Weener said. "We're weighing the baggage, we're weighing everything that comes off the airplane."
Investigators say all four of the Otter’s propeller blades were found bent at the crash site, an indication that the propeller was turning at the time of impact. Both the engine and propeller have been removed from the aircraft; the engine will be returned to Honeywell, its manufacturer, for analysis.
The NTSB is also continuing work to recover information from the aircraft’s Spidertracks system, which broadcasts flight telemetry, as well as five cellphones recovered from the crash site Monday and Tuesday. No more phones were found at the scene Wednesday.
Weener didn’t have immediate details on the Otter’s total flight time Wednesday afternoon, but said that it had been owned by Rediske Air for three years.
"My understanding is that this was an airplane that was being used frequently," Weener said.
With no surveillance video from the Soldotna airport and no cockpit voice or flight data recorders on board the Otter, NTSB investigators are still looking for witnesses to the plane crash. Anyone coming forward should email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Chris Klint