ANCHORAGE -

The pilot and sole occupant killed in a plane crash at Merrill Field Wednesday morning has been identified by the Anchorage Police Department.

In a brief statement Wednesday evening, Anchorage police say the man killed in the crash was 61-year-old Charles Hancock. His next of kin have been notified.

National Transportation Safety Board investigator Catherine Gagne says the wreckage of the privately owned 1947 Piper PA-12 has been removed from the crash site for further investigation.

APD spokesperson Jennifer Castro said Anchorage police and fire departments were notified of the crash at 8:25 a.m.

All runways at Merrill Field were shut down in response to the crash, Castro said, while the NTSB and the Federal Aviation Administration were notified.

Gagne also confirmed Hancock was the only occupant of the plane and the reported fatality in the crash.

"It's our understanding that the aircraft was taking off from runway 25 (parallel to 5th Avenue)," Gagne said. "It was in contact with the tower at the time. We do have some witnesses who saw the flight; we're interested in talking to them."

Glen Alsworth, the owner of Lake Clark Air, heard the plane and went outside to watch it as it began to take off.

"Like any good pilot, I wanted to watch -- you always do," Alsworth said. "As it lifted up at a very steep angle of climb, at about 100 feet, it looked like the angle was so great that the airplane couldn't sustain (its climb)."

Alsworth watched as the plane's nose pitched over and it came back down toward the ground, he said. 

"It looked like a near-vertical attitude," Alsworth said.

Another witness, Alaska Aircraft Engines employee Tyler Seybert, says the wreck didn't appear survivable.

 "I saw the pilot and he seemed like he was dead on impact, and it was very graphic," Seybert said. "It's definitely sad; it's the first time I've seen something like that, so I'm a little bit -- I don't know how to explain it."

Don Reed says he formed a 30-year-long friendship with Hancock after the two men met while hot-air ballooning. Reed says he and Hancock -- whom Reed's three children knew as "Uncle Charlie" -- were co-owners of the plane that crashed.

"He loved the Alaska lifestyle," Reed said. "He was big into air sports, skydiving, hot-air ballooning, and he and I bought this airplane years and years ago. He was a very good pilot and he loved to fish too and to hunt -- we loved to hunt."

While Hancock had far-ranging interests, Reed says he took a meticulous approach to his hobbies.

"He wasn't reckless, though -- he loved doing what he did," Reed said. "He was very scientific in his approach to things; he liked to know how things worked, both mechanically and physically. He was one of those guys that studied things and then went out and loved to build stuff and tinker with things and have fun."

Employees of the state medical examiner's arrived at the scene to move Hancock's body, at which point NTSB crews began removing the wreckage from the runway. Gagne says Merrill Field reopened shortly after the runway was cleared.

Preliminary documents have been taken from the scene, according to Gagne; the plane wasn't carrying cargo in its rear area, with only a few items there in a contained compartment. The next step in the investigation will include taking witness accounts and gathering information about Hancock.

Gagne says an initial NTSB report on the crash will be released in about a week. In the meantime, Hancock's friends are struggling to accept his loss.

"He was just one of your truly nice guys, like the Billy Joel song, 'Only the Good Die Young,'" Reed said. "He was just one of those really good guys."

Channel 2's Samantha Angaiak, Ariane Aramburo, Chris Klint, Adam Pinsker and Garrett Turner contributed to this report.