Brandon Reiley 2010-08-24
Seth Holden

2 found dead in plane wreckage near Mount Susitna
CAUSE UNKNOWN: Small Piper likely crashed in a nose dive.

By KYLE HOPKINS,, Published: August 26th, 2010

A small plane headed from Anchorage to an Iditarod Trail hunting lodge crashed nose-first into a Susitna River sandbar Tuesday night, killing the pilot and passenger, safety investigators said Wednesday.

The accident likely came at about 7:45 p.m. Tuesday, about an hour after the two-seat Piper PA-11 left Lake Hood, according to a flight plan filed by the pilot. A friend says the pair may have been on the lookout for moose, in preparation for the fall hunting season. The plane struck level terrain near Mount Susitna, about 30 miles northwest of Anchorage, said National Transportation Safety Board investigator Josh Cawthra.

At least 19 people, including former Sen. Ted Stevens, have now died in Alaska aircraft accidents this summer. Another four people were still missing Wednesday aboard a floatplane that disappeared days before in Southwest Alaska, even as the head of the Federal Aviation Administration tours the state this week to talk about aviation safety.

A long-overdue string of sunny days has given pilots all the more reason to take to the sky this week after a summer so wet it broke records.

Smoke rising from the wreckage -- and the sound of an emergency locator transmitter overheard by passing military planes -- revealed the latest crash site Tuesday.

As authorities looked to identify the bodies, Cawthra spent two or three hours examining the scene Wednesday.

The lack of scars on the ground around the wreckage hint that the plane was nearly vertical when it crashed, investigators said.

It's too early to say what happened, though Cawthra found no initial signs of mechanical failure.

Officials had not named the people on board as of Wednesday night. The Piper bears tail number N78831, which is registered to Brandon Reiley, 28, of Anchorage.

Friends and family said they believe Reiley was piloting the plane. His mother, Debera Reiley, said her son had left for a flight Tuesday night and never returned.


The Alaska Air National Guard was flying an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter and an HC-130 plane on a training flight above Big Lake when they heard a signal from the Piper's emergency beacon just before 8 p.m. Tuesday, said Guard spokesman Maj. Guy Hayes.

"They saw a fire in the distance," Hayes said. Smoke plumes rose from the accident site, which investigators place at least 200 feet from the Big Susitna River.

The Pave Hawk helicopter soon landed, and the crew using fire extinguishers in an effort to beat back the flames.

A second National Guard helicopter arrived shortly after, Hayes said. Pararescuemen found two bodies in the wreckage.

A pilot flying another small plane, from Skwentna to Anchorage, also noticed the smoking wreckage Tuesday night. That pilot, who Cawthra did not identify, reported clear skies in the area.

The National Guard flew the bodies to Kulis Air National Guard Base on Tuesday night and the state medical examiner's office completed an autopsy Wednesday morning, said Greg Wilkinson, a health department spokesman.

Safety investigators said the pilot and passenger had planned to travel to Rainy Pass Lodge and -- according to early interviews -- were on the lookout for moose.

"They were probably scoping some options out for this fall's moose hunting," said Anchorage photographer Matt Hage, a friend of Reiley and mountain climbing partner of another man who friends fear was the passenger on the plane. The pair were expected back in Anchorage for a barbecue Tuesday night, Hage said.

No one at Rainy Pass Lodge could be reached for immediate comment.

Cawthra, who investigated the wreckage, said the plane was mostly consumed in the flames. He didn't find the emergency locator transmitter, though a circuit board spotted among the charred wreckage may have been the ELT, or perhaps a radio.

"This was a very basic, bare-bones airplane," Cawthra said.

Read The Village, the ADN's blog about rural Alaska, at Twitter updates: Call Kyle Hopkins at 257-4334.

Mount Susitna plane crash victims identified

Share by Channel 2 News staff, August 27, 2010

ANCHORAGE, Alaska The state medical examiner's office has used dental records to identify the two victims in Tuesday's plane crash near Mount Susitna. The victims were identified as Brandon Reiley, 28, and Seth Holden, 29, both of Anchorage.

The crash happened about 25 miles north of Anchorage, near the Susitna River. Reiley is registered as the owner of the plane.