Alaska Digest

Posted: Monday, June 25, 2007

Instructor, student killed in plane crash

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ANCHORAGE - A flight instructor and student died Sunday in a small plane crash near the airport in Wasilla, a Federal Aviation Administration spokes-man said.

The single-engine plane, a Cessna 177, departed Sunday from Merrill Field in Anchorage, 45 miles south of Wasilla. The plane was not required to file a flight plan, said FAA spokesman Ian Gregor.

The plane belonged to Aero Tech Flight Services, a flight instruction business based at Merrill Field.

After-hours calls to the company were not immediately returned.

Gregor said no names will be released until families have been contacted.

The National Weather Service reported calm winds and cloudy skies with a visibility of 10 miles at the Wasilla Airport, said lead forecaster Eddie Zingone.

The plane's crumpled remains lay in a dirt field just shy of the airport, according to the FAA and footage from KTUU-TV in Anchorage.

Gregor said the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are planning to investigate the cause of the crash.

Fires continue to rage in Southcentral

ANCHORAGE - With dozens of homes and seasonal cabins already destroyed by a widespread blaze, fire crews on Sunday worked to protect hundreds of others tucked in the hills of the scenic Kenai Peninsula.

The fire has burgeoned to 81 square miles since Tuesday, consuming 35 far-flung cabins in the Caribou Hills, state fire information officials said.

Forty other structures, including sheds and outhouses, also were lost in the popular hunting and snowmobiling area about 80 miles south of Anchorage, the state's largest city.

The blaze is carving easily through wide swaths of beetle-killed spruce, and crews are finding it hard to maneuver in the warren of footpaths and gravel roads criss-crossing the hills, said fire information officer Elaine Hall.

The fire threatens another 600 residences and cabins, Hall said. An evacuation order has been in effect since Friday, however, fire officials said an unknown number of residents have refused to budge.

"Some folks stayed to protect their houses when they were supposed to evacuate, but we haven't heard about anyone being hurt so far," said Bob Evenson, a fire volunteer and resident of nearby Kasilof.

Officials did not know how many people had left their homes because many of the structures are only used seasonally.

Nearly 400 firefighting personnel from around Alaska and the Lower 48 have arrived throughout the week, according to the Alaska Interagency Management Team.

Search goes on for bodies of campers

FAIRBANKS - The search continues for the bodies of two campers who disappeared at Harding Lake nearly a month ago with volunteers from Alaska villages and the lower 48 still trickling in.

Searchers believe the bodies of Travis Alexander, 19, of Fort Yukon and Kathy Garrigan, 24, of the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, are somewhere in the deep, cold waters of the large lake.

The body of 20-year-old Liza Lomando of East Meadow, New York, was pulled from the lake shortly after the three AmeriCorps volunteers were reported missing.

They were on a camping trip during Memorial Day weekend when their canoe apparently tipped, authorities said.

The three worked for the Nenana-based Tribal Civilian Community Corps, which is affiliated with AmeriCorps and the Tanana Chiefs Conference, which continues to lead the search.

"This is probably the longest that we've searched in one of our Interior lakes in a number of years," said Jim Knopke, director of village public safety and security for TCC. "That doesn't stop our resolve for working this as long as we need to."

A sonar team of eight people from a Georgia-based nonprofit, the Seth Foundation, arrived this week, and divers from the Alaska National Guard are expected over the weekend. Volunteers continue to arrive from multiple Interior villages.

Chris Sandland, a diver, is also assisting in the search.

"We're there to recover these kids out of the lake and to provide closure to the families," Knopke said. "That's our ultimate goal. I think we've been doing everything humanly possible to try and achieve those results."

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