While Soldotna Police did not immediately release the identities of any of the dead, employees of Rediske Air confirmed the company owner was at the controls of the DHC-3 Otter fixed-wing air taxi when it crashed.
"SPD is working diligently with South Carolina authorities to identify and locate the probable next of kin,” Alaska State Troopers said in a statement. “The names of the victims, as well as other potential identifying information, will not be released until the remains of individuals have been positively identified by the State Medical Examiner.”
The National Transportation Safety Board, which launched a major go-team to investigate the accident, said the crash likely occurred upon takeoff from Soldatna Municipal Airport, about 70 miles southwest of Anchorage.
"Any accident with fatalities or serious injuries is horrible,” said Clint Johnson, NTSB Anchorage chief. “Once it reaches the threshold of eight or 10 fatalities, we have different responses as far as the NTSB goes -- that's why we are launching a major go-team on this accident.”
Rediske, from Nikiski, was scheduled to fly guests to Lake Clark bear viewing lodge Sunday, confirmed Mac McGahan, who owns Bear Mountain Lodge on Chinitna Bay, in Lake Clark National Park.
"Willie was a great pilot and a friend and we're going to miss him dearly," McGahan said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this tragedy."