Federal investigators gathering facts of Alaska crash

Greenville NewsJuly 10, 2013 

McManus Family

— As classmates, co-workers and friends of two families killed in a plane crash in Alaska held memorial services for them Wednesday, the National Transportation Safety Board said investigators moved the wreckage to a hangar for further examination and expect to remain at the scene for another week.

At the final press briefing from the crash site, Earl F. Weener of the NTSB said investigators removed the engine and propeller from the main wreckage at the Soldotna Municipal Airport. The engine will be boxed and shipped to Honeywell in Phoenix for a complete analysis, Weener said.

Investigators also are conducting interviews to build a 72-hour history of the pilot’s activities before the crash and will try independently to determine the weight and balance of the airplane as it took off Sunday, Weener said.

Melet and Kim Antonakos and their children, Olivia, Mills and Ana, were killed along with Chris and Stacey McManus and their children, Meghan and Connor. They were vacationing together when their plane crashed on takeoff at the small airport 75 miles from Anchorage.

The pilot of the single-engine plane also died.

The families were on their way to a remote lodge for a bear-sighting expedition.

Christ Church Episcopal, where both families were members, announced plans for two services.

A candlelight service which “honors and celebrates the lives” of the five young people who died will be held at the All Saints Center from 7-9 tonight. Youth groups from First Presbyterian Church, Buncombe Street United Methodist Church and other youth groups in the Greenville community are scheduled to participate.

The All Saints Center is across the parking lot from the parish office building on Washington Street.

A memorial service to honor both families will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at Christ Church in the main sanctuary, with a live video feed to Markley Chapel, on the church campus.

On Wednesday, at Buncombe Street United Methodist Church, Boy Scouts from Troop 9 honored Connor McManus, one of their members, and his father, who was a troop leader.

Connor had attained the rank of Life Scout and was well on his way to becoming an Eagle, said Tim Poole, assistant scoutmaster.

He had earned 35 merit badges -- 14 more than needed for the Eagle rank -- and was planning a service project, the last requirement for reaching the highest rank a Boy Scout can earn.

He also had completed three of four projects to earn a Nova award, which focuses on science, technology, engineering and math, Poole said.

At the age of 14, Connor had advanced quickly through the ranks, and had become a leader among the younger boys, Poole said. Scoutmaster Rob Foy told the group at the church that Connor didn’t know it, but he had been chosen to be assistant senior patrol leader this fall.

“He was one of those boys, there was no doubt in my mind he was going to make Eagle,” Foy said. “He wanted to be an example to the younger scouts and help them grow.”

His father had just reached the highest level of adult service in the Boy Scouts, the Wood Badge beads, for completing an extensive leadership training program, Foy said. Dr. McManus was scheduled to teach a merit badge class this week, upon returning from vacation, he said.

In addition to making monthly camping trips, Connor and his father had gone on a trip to the Bahamas with the scouts. He and his dad and sister all became certified in scuba diving, Poole said.

Chris McManus’ older brother, Larry, told the group about his experiences as a scout with his brother and joked about the mistakes they had made along the way in learning camping skills.

“Chris and I had a lot of great adventures in scouting,” he said, holding back tears. “And it was a lot of fun.”

NTSB officials said the airplane carrying the Greenville families wasn’t required to have a so-called black box, or data-recording device.

Weener said investigators were looking for witnesses and images of the crash. He urged anyone with information to email the NTSB at witness@ntsb.gov.

Tuesday night, Weener said the de Havilland DHC-3 Otter carrying the Greenville families was hired to fly nine passengers and supplies to the lodge approximately 90 miles to the southwest.

The airplane got airborne and then crashed with its right wing down, Weener said. The propeller showed evidence of rotation at the time of impact, he said.

The crash site was 88 feet to the right of the runway at Soldotna’s airport, NTSB officials said. The runway is paved and 5,000 feet long, according to the town’s website.

Records were being gathered on the airplane’s manufacture, maintenance, ownership, and details on Sunday’s trip, Weener said.

Investigators recovered five cell phones from the crash site, according to NTSB officials.

Soldotna is a town of about 4,000 people on Alaska’s scenic Kenai Peninsula. The area is a popular destination for wild salmon and rainbow trout fishing.

In dealing with the expansive terrain, residents and visitors are dependent on air travel, Upstate native Steven Hall said.

“Very little portion of the state is touched by the road system,” the missionary worker told GreenvilleOnline.com. “Most of it is off-road or not accessible unless you go by air or, in the wintertime, by snow machine, or by boat if you go by river in the summertime as well.”

Hall and his wife, Natalie, grew up in Laurens. They have been in Greenville since May on a sabbatical from their missionary work in Alaska. The couple have three children, ages 14, 12 and 10.

The Halls lived in Greenville for several years before moving to Alaska. Working for SEND, an interdenominational Christian mission organization, they have been in Alaska for eight years — in Glennallen and then Anchorage — and will return next June.

Hall said missionary and other groups use the Soldotna airport and the weather can change quickly.

But without air travel, “We wouldn’t have any ministry,” he said. “It’s how we connect with our missionaries and the Bush. villages. It’s how we get them from one village to the next to do ministry. It’s kind of our lifeline into different areas of Alaska.”

The State is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service