Authorities identify victims of Alaska “Con Air”-movie plane crash

August 3rd, 2010 - 1:35 pm ICT by BNO News  

DENALI NATIONAL PARK, ALASKA (BNO NEWS) — Authorities on late Monday identified the three people who died in Sunday’s plane crash in Alaska. The plane also turned out to be the same aircraft that was used in the 1997-film “Con Air”.

“The Jailbird”, as it was known as in the movie, crashed around 3 p.m. local time in the south-facing slope of Mount Healy, within a mile (1.6 kilometer) of Denali National Park’s headquarters and approximately 200 yards (182 meters) north of Denali Park Road.

The crash initially sparked a wildland fire that hampered rescue and recovery operations, but was contained at approximately one acre. Smokejumpers and firefighters were used to put water on hot spots to fully control and eventually extinguish the fire at the scene.

Kris Fister, a spokeswoman for the park, said the Fairchild C-123 aircraft - which was being used as a cargo plane - was registered to All West Freight, Inc. based in Delta Junction, Alaska.

Online records show All West Freight, Inc. is a private company that was established in 1996 and has several employees. A woman who answered the phone at All West Freight, Inc. on early Monday morning refused to give out any information.

It also turned out on Monday that the aircraft that crashed in the park was the same as the one that was used in the 1997 action/thriller film Con Air, which stars Nicolas Cage, John Cusack and John Malkovich.

Authorities also released the identities of the victims. “The identities were determined through interviews with acquaintances, friends, and relatives familiar with the plane and the intended flight on Sunday,” Fister said.

She identified the plane’s pilot as Bill Michel, age 61 of Delta Junction, and was also the owner of All West Freight, Inc. The other two victims were identified as John Eshleman, 52, and Paul Quartly, 66. They were both of Wasilla.

Investigators with the Office of the State Medical Examiner arrived in the park Monday afternoon and will oversee the recovery of the remains of the three men as part of the on-site investigation. Official identification of the deceased will be made by the State Medical Examiner by forensic examination.

Around mid-Monday morning, investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also arrived at the scene. They since completed an aerial reconnaissance and preliminary ground survey.

“Those offices will take over the on-scene investigation when the State Medical Examiner’s work is completed,” Fister added.

Plumes of smoke could be seen rising from the wooded area seconds after the plane went down. “The first personnel arrived on scene within minutes, but the wreckage was already engulfed in flames,” Fister said.

But Anchorage resident Jeff Kowalczy, who witnessed the crash, told KTUU-TV that the emergency response took longer. “We looked back and it started banking to the pilot’s left, kept banking more and more until it was upside-down and crashed in the hill right in back of us,” Kowalczyk told the station.

“We walked around the perimeter, took about a half-hour for the park rangers to show up and help out - but we saw one body, one body burned pretty bad, pilot probably,” he added.

Another witness, George Clare of Las Vegas, told the Anchorage Daily News that he saw the plane flying ‘very low’ and slowly while he was walking toward the visitor’s center near the park entrance. He thought the plane was going to land on a local airstrip, so he proceeded to the visitor’s center. Within minutes, people came running in and saying a plane had crashed.

He said the crash caused a column of smoke west of the visitor’s center, according to the newspaper. “It was a military khaki green kind of color,” Clare said. “It was propeller-driven. It was a fixed-wing aircraft, and it had kind of a flat underbelly.”

Kowalczy and Clare were just one of many people who witnessed the plane crash in the park.

The deadly crash came days after a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III aircraft went down at the end of the runway at Elmendrof Air Force Base in Anchorage, leaving four airmen killed.

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