Two South Carolina families, hoping to spot a bear on a vacation in the Alaskan wilderness, were killed Sunday when their air taxi crashed.
The dead included a family of five and a family of four, both from Greenville, according to family friends and law enforcement sources.
Milton Antonakos, his wife, Kimberly, and their three children 16-year-old Olivia, 14-year-old Mills and 12-year-old Anna were on the plane, according to state Rep. Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville, who was a neighbor of the Antonakos family.
Chris McManus, his wife, Stacey, and their two children Connor and Meghan also were on the plane, according to their pastor, Upstate law enforcement officials and family friends.
The pilot, Walter Rediske, from Nikiski, Alaska, also was killed in the crash, according to Alaska authorities, who have not released the identification of the other crash victims.
Rediske was scheduled to take guests to a Lake Clark bear-viewing lodge Sunday, the owner of the lodge said.
Absolutely fabulous family'
I just can't believe it, Bannister said of the Antonakos family. They were on the plane, on a family vacation, and they are not coming back.
Bannister, an attorney, said he met Milton Antonakos several years ago when he represented him in a legal matter. He described a loving family that took care of each other and their neighbors.
Anna is in my son's class and got basically every award you can get at the fifth-grade awards day, Bannister said. Mills, the boy, every morning would go out and get (his neighbor's) newspaper and take it to his porch so he didn't have to walk out on the driveway.
Bannister said Milton Antonakos was one of those people that would just spend any amount of time that he needed to with his kids, while Kimberly always was volunteering at her children's schools. Bannister said several of the children were on a local swim team.
They were just an absolutely fabulous family, he said.
Olivia Antonakos was a rising junior at J.L. Mann High School, where she was a varsity basketball player and just had been elected secretary of the student body. Most of her basketball teammates were playing in a tournament in Atlanta, a tournament Olivia skipped so she could take a vacation with her family, according to Charles Mayfield, the school's principal.
While students are on summer break, Mayfield said the J.L. Mann Student Council has delivered flowers to the Antonakos house and left a guestbook there for mourners to sign. Mayfield said the Antonakos's neighborhood was planning a prayer service Monday evening.
It's just a loss for the school and for the whole community, Mayfield said. They were just good people. They thought of others before they thought of themselves. To lose the whole family, it's just really shocking.
They were beautiful'
The McManus family made Marshall Johnson and his family feel welcome when they recently moved into their Greenville neighborhood.
They were very easy going, said Johnson, whose wife once taught Connor McManus at Christ Church Episcopal School in Greenville. They were beautiful.
Connor McManus was working with his father, a radiologist, to earn the Boy Scouts' highest rank, Eagle Scout, Johnson said.
Meghan McManus, a rising senior at Christ Church Episcopal School, was looking at colleges with her family, Johnson said. Her sophomore project last year was on the Ronald McDonald House: Keeping Families Together, according to the school's website.
The pair were acolytes at Christ Church Episcopal this spring and were involved in youth programs.
Stacey McManus was a board member of the Episcopal women's group at the church, had worked with the hand bell choir, and taught Sunday and vacation Bible school, said the Rev. Harrison McLeod, rector at Christ Church Episcopal. She also helped run the auction at the school's annual gala this spring.
She did all that with a smile on her face, McLeod said.
Dr. McManus was very caring and thoughtful and dedicated to his patients, the reverend said. Several parishioners came to the church Monday to pray for the McManus family.
In addition to their dedication to the church, the family was known for always being together.
This vacation was indicative of who they were, McLeod said. They enjoyed each other's company. They were a wonderful example of how a family can play together and get the most from each other.
No one made it out
An investigation into the plane crash has begun.
The National Transportation Safety Board investigators said Monday that the probe would last about a week with a final report in roughly a year. Investigators said the plane was not equipped with a flight recorder.
Safety board representative Earl Weener said investigators will be looking for GPS devices in lieu of a flight-data recorder. He said the agency will have a preliminary report available in about 30 days.
The Soldotna Airport is a municipal airstrip with a single paved, 5,000-foot-long runway, adjacent to the Kenai River. The airport is busy in the summer months with fishing, hunting and sight-seeing flights that take off from the Kenai Peninsula town.
Clint Johnson, a spokesman for the safety board, told the Anchorage Daily News that an initial report from someone at the small airport indicated the plane was taking off when the accident occurred.
The person saw the plane taxiing out for takeoff but didn't see any actual takeoff attempt.
The next thing they knew is, they saw it on fire, unfortunately, after the accident, Johnson said.
Fire crews got the call for help at 11:24 a.m. Sunday and were the first to get to the burning plane, said Capt. Lesley Quelland of Central Emergency Services.
We saw the plume immediately when we left the station, Quelland said Sunday. It was a big, black cloud of smoke visible from the station, about three driving miles from the airport, she said. Campers at the nearby Klondike RV Park also saw smoke, owner Al Belknap said.
When fire crews arrived at the airport about 11:30 a.m., the aircraft was crashed off the side of the runway and it was fully involved in flames, Quelland said.
It took crews about 10 minutes to put out the fire and look for survivors. There were none. No one made it out of the plane.
Second Alaska crash to claim S.C. lives
This is the second Alaskan airplane crash to claim the lives of South Carolinians in a little more than a week.
Two people from the Upstate 74-year-old John Ellenberg of Greenville and 52-year-old Laurie Buckner of Simpsonville were killed in a June 28 crash of a tour plane near Cantwell, Alaska, that also claimed the life of the pilot.
Mac McGahan, who co-owns the Bear Mountain Lodge on Chinitna Bay, at the southern end of Lake Clark National Park, said the pilot, Walter Rediske, was a great pilot and a friend, and we're going to miss him dearly.
Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this tragedy.
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