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2 dead in crash of cargo plane near Fairbanks

State Troopers in Fairbanks received reports of an aircraft crash around seven miles south of the Fairbanks International Airport on the Tanana River. (Alaska Dive Search Rescue and Recovery Team/Facebook)

Two people died Tuesday morning when a cargo plane crashed on the Tanana River near Fairbanks, Alaska State Troopers said.

The aircraft, described by troopers as a Douglas DC-4, crashed shortly after leaving Fairbanks International Airport, troopers said in an update. The plane crashed into the river about 7 miles south of the airport, then “slid into a steep hill on the bank of the river where it caught fire,” troopers said.

Three National Transportation Safety Board investigators planned to go to the crash site Tuesday afternoon to begin an investigation, said Clint Johnson, the agency’s Alaska chief.

Few additional details were immediately available about the crash, including the names of people on the flight and where it was headed.

Johnson described the four-engine aircraft as a “large transport” plane, meaning it is primarily used for hauling materials, not passengers. The planes, which are increasingly rare, were originally used by the military. The military version of the DC-4 is known as the C-54 Skymaster.

A flight radar tracking site showed the aircraft taking off from Fairbanks International Airport at 9:56 a.m. and terminating at the crash site about four minutes later.

Authorities on Tuesday provided no official confirmation of the operator of the plane at the time of the crash. The aircraft is registered to Alaska Air Fuel, a Wasilla-based fuel hauling company, according to a Federal Aviation Administration database. A person who answered the phone at the company early Tuesday afternoon had no comment.

Mike Emers, owner of Rosie Creek Farm southwest of Fairbanks, was in his office just before 10 a.m. Tuesday when he heard an explosion.

“I looked out the window and coming right over our farm was a four-engine plane, and one of the engines was on fire,” Emers said in a phone interview.

He tried to call 911 but said he couldn’t get through. Then, Emers said, he heard an explosion followed by a crash. He called trooper emergency dispatch and ran toward the column of dark smoke rising from the crash site, he said, hearing more “very loud” explosions as he ran.

“You could feel them on the ground,” Emers said.

His teenage son followed him, along with a neighbor, he said.

The plane crashed at the base of a forested bluff along the river, and fire was spreading into stands of black and white spruce, Emers said. The pair tried to beat it back with their sweatshirts.

Emers said he saw a large debris field over the charred bluff, including what looked like parts of an aircraft. Some of the debris was on the still partly frozen river.

Trooper helicopters were on scene quickly, he said.

Emers and his son were both shaken up. The plane looked like one that regularly flies over the farm on its path to and from the Fairbanks airport, he said.

Troopers said they responded to the scene along with University of Alaska Police, Fairbanks Airport Police and Fire, the Fairbanks Police Department, the Esther and Chena Goldstream volunteer fire departments and the Rescue Coordination Center.

A spokesman for Fairbanks International Airport urged the public to avoid the area.


(c) 2024 the Alaska Dispatch News 

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