Six killed in plane crash

Iliamna air taxi found Sunday after blizzard halted earlier search

Posted: Monday, February 07, 2000

ANCHORAGE - Six people were found dead Sunday in the wreckage of a plane that crashed in the rugged terrain of Southwest Alaska.

An Army National Guard helicopter reached the site of the crash near Music Lake, about 250 miles southwest of Anchorage, Sunday afternoon and found no survivors in the wreckage of the Cessna 206, Alaska State Trooper spokesman Tim DeSpain said.

By Sunday evening, the bodies had been removed from the wreckage and taken to Iliamna for positive identification.

Troopers identified the victims today as pilot Scott W. DeWitt of Iliamna, age 47, and five passengers from Newhalen: Village Public Safety Officer Henry Anelon Sr., 48; Pavela Wassillie, 74, and his wife, Mary Wassillie, 67; and their granddaughters Tina Wassillie, 15, and Kristy Lamont, 18.

The plane, operated by Iliamna Air Taxi, had set out Saturday afternoon for the 50-minute flight from Iliamna to Koliganek but never arrived at its destination. The crash site is about halfway between the two small villages.

At the time the plane took off from Iliamna, skies were cloudy with visibility of 10 miles, winds at 7 mph and temperatures in the upper 30s, according to the National Weather Service.

The plane was reported overdue at about 6:40 p.m. Saturday evening.

A search for the missing plane began Saturday night, but had to be halted due to heavy snow and whiteout conditions. The Alaska National Guard, state troopers and volunteers resumed the search Sunday morning.

A woman who answered the phone at Iliamna Air Taxi Sunday afternoon said the company had no comment.

The cause of the crash was not yet known. An investigator from the National Transportation Safety Board was headed to King Salmon today and was expected to reach the crash site by helicopter Tuesday, weather permitting, said Jim LaBelle, who heads the agency's office in Anchorage. The area where the crash occurred was described as flat and open.

News of the crash hit hard in Koliganek, a close-knit Native village of about 200 people, located on the Nushagak River.

``I don't think anybody wants to talk. Things aren't good here right now,'' said a woman who answered the phone for the village public safety officer.

According to NTSB records dating back to 1983, Iliamna Air Taxi has not had any previous fatal accidents.

A Cessna 206 operated by the carrier flipped over on landing in Kamishak Bay in August 1986, and a Cessna 207A operated by the company struck a snow berm after aborting takeoff from Nondalton in January 1990. No one was injured in either accident, according to the NTSB.

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