Six die in Alaskan plane crash

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Sunday, January 6, 2008

This Piper PA-31 Navajo is comparable to the one involved. The PA-31 Navajo Chieftain features a stretched cabin and improved engines

A Piper PA-31 Navajo Chieftain owned and operated by Servant Air has crashed shortly after takeoff from Kodiak Island, Alaska, United States. Six people were killed and four others were rescued.

The flight was a 100 mile scheduled domestic charter flight from Kodiak to Homer. Servant Air are a small local airline that serves Kodiak, which has a population of around 6,000. The airline was founded in 2003 and currently operates seven planes. The plane took off at 1:48 p.m. local time Saturday and subsequently crashed in a shallow harbor 50 yards from the runway.

Dean Andrew, who was piloting a float plane taxiing on the water nearby, was able to rescue four people from the crashed plane. "Once I got them in they were really cold, and they were just pretty hysterical because they had told me that their family's in that plane," said Andrew, who the International Tribune Herald reports operates his own small air service, although the Seattle Times reported that he flew the plane for Trident Seafoods.

A Piper PA-31 Chieftain, for comparison.

Alaska State Troopers and Kodiak Police divers were called in to retrieve the bodies of four others. A fifth was pulled out the water after attempting to swim 300 yards to shore, but he had already succumbed to the cold.

The passengers were Russian Orthodox Old Believers who had chartered the flight home in order to celebrate Russian Christmas, which is celebrated on Monday. The deceased have been identified as Homer citizens Stefan F. Basargin, 36; Pavel F. Basargin, 30; Zahary F. Martushev, 25; Iosif F. Martushev, 15; Andrian Reutov, 22 and local pilot Robin Starrett, 50. The survivors, who have not been identified, are all in good condition or out of hospital. Two were flown to Anchorage for treatment and two remained in Kodak; in both cases one was released and one remains.

Andrew described the moments leading up to the crash: "I heard Servant Air's Navajo taking off, and shortly after he took off, he said, 'I need to return to the airport.' I know the pilot, and I could tell by the tone of his voice that it was probably something serious."

The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has opened a full investigation. NTSB investigator Clint Johnson told reporters it's possible that mechanical problems with the plane caused the accident.

Ted Panamarioff, spokesman for Servant Air, said of Starrett "Very humble, very caring. Very detail oriented. Very precise in the way he did things. He was an excellent family man. Excellent co-worker." He also said that Starrett had served in the Coast Guard, and that those involved were regular customers well known with the small airline. "We're all family and friends here. We knew these customers for several years. This is really, really tragic."