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Four killed in Sitka plane crash

Small craft plummets into an unoccupied house, sparking fire

Posted: Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A single engine airplane crashed into an unoccupied house Monday near downtown Sitka, killing at least four people, including the pilot, and engulfing the house in flames, officials said.

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More detailed information was not immediately available as rescue workers and firefighters responded to the wreckage on Kogwanton Street. Neighbors were the first to react at about 12:55 p.m., when they heard the Piper Malibu fly overhead and smash into the house of a Sitka massage therapist.

"I heard a big crash, and the telephone poles rattled a bit," said Jeremiah Kacyon, 26. "The plane went through the house, and the wing was on the ground in the street."

Kacyon and some neighbors ran inside to help, and the place smelled of gas, he said. There was a fuel tank in front of the house.

"A minute after the crash, the tank blew up and the house caught fire. Hundreds of people started running up after that. The fire department showed up, and they got the fire out pretty quick."

The investigation will be turned over to the National Transportation Safety Board, which will begin surveying the site Tuesday morning, said Lt. Barry Allen of the Sitka Police Department.

"It's still too hot underneath the plane to get in there," he said. "There is debris under the airplane that is still smoldering, so nobody is going into that plane until (Tuesday morning) at the earliest."

Houses in the area were immediately evacuated, and there were no reports of injuries on the ground, according to the Sitka Fire Department. Information about the pilot and possible passengers was not available, though the fire department said there were "possibly four people on board."

Jim La Belle, the regional director of the National Transportation Safety Board for Alaska, said the plane departed Victoria Monday morning and was heading to the Sitka airport when it went down.

Homeowner Tess Hayburn, described by neighbors as a longtime Sitka resident who ran a massage therapy business, could not be reached for comment. Family member Dennis Hicks said Hayburn is well but in shock.

"She wasn't in the house, and she's OK," Hicks said.

Authorities blocked off several streets after the crash.

Bertha Karras, a lifelong Sitka resident, was at home when the plane struck her neighbor's house.

"We heard it spinning," she said. "It was sputtering really bad. From what I heard, it was twirling. I don't know how it missed our house."

"We're pretty shook up," she added. "The fire trucks are still there. The whole place is just massive smoke."

Click here to see more photos of the crash.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

• Contact Ken Lewis at 523-2263 or ken.lewis@juneauempire.com.



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