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, 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.
"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.
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.
"It's just a loss for the school and for the whole community," Mayfield said.
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 become an 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.
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.
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.
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.
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," said Capt. Lesley Quelland of Central Emergency Services.
It took crews about 10 minutes to put out the fire and look for survivors. There were none.
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.