Bodies recovered, midair breakup investigated in plane crash

A rocky riverbanks with mountains in the background
Copper River near Chitina (Wikimedia Commons image)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska State Troopers have recovered the bodies of two people who died in the crash of a small plane, which federal investigators said may have broken up in midair.

Troopers and National Park Service Rangers arrived Saturday at the site in Wrangell-St Elias National Park where the Cessna 185 single-engine propeller plane went down Thursday.

The National Transportation Safety Board said the flight operated by Copper Valley Air Service carried a pilot and one passenger, who were both killed.

The names of the crash victims were not immediately made public. Their bodies were taken to the state medical examiner’s office for identification.

Copper Valley Air Service is a family-owned business based at Gulkana Airport in Glennallen that provides sightseeing and backcountry flights, the company’s website said.

The plane, which also carried U.S. mail, was flying from Gulkana to McCarthy. Debris fell in a forested, mountainous area about 13 miles northeast of Chitina.

The Alaska Rescue Coordination Center was alerted to the crash at 11:41 a.m. Thursday by an emergency locator transmitter, troopers said.

National Transportation Safety Board Alaska Chief Clint Johnson said early findings indicate the plane may have broken up during flight.

The main fuselage landed in one location, and the tail and other debris were found about 200 yards away, Johnson said.

Midair breakups are unusual and often involve flights in bad weather. Investigators are considering the weather at the time of the crash, which was cold but did not immediately appear to be a factor, Johnson said.

A structural engineer and an Alaska-based investigator were expected to travel to the site, where the wreckage will be recovered for examination, Johnson said.

Wrangell-St. Elias, America’s largest national park, stretches over more than 20,300 square miles.

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