"Aviation is a basic mode of transportation and the small general aviation aircraft is the equivalent of the minivan for a family in Bush Alaska," C. Joy Journeay, executive director of the Alaska Air Carriers Association, said in an email.
"Over 10,000 piston engine aircraft are registered in the State of Alaska and provide the primary means of transportation," she said. "They are the backbone of transportation for the state."
The NTSB sent an investigative team from Washington, D.C., that arrived in Anchorage on Monday afternoon before heading to Soldotna. NTSB member Earl Weener said the on-scene investigation is expected to last between five and eight days, with a probable cause determination expected in about a year.
At the time of the crash, there were light winds and high clouds, Johnson said.
Rediske Air was involved in an accident last year in Nikiski, according to an NTSB database report.
In the non-injury mishap, the pilot of a Cessna 207A plane misidentified the runway surface at night and landed the aircraft in a snow bank. The pilot said most of the runway lights had been covered by heavy snow and were not clearly visible.
The plane's wings and horizontal stabilizer sustained substantial damage.
In the Soldotna crash, the flames took 10 minutes to extinguish and initially kept firefighters from reaching the wreckage, according to authorities.
The de Havilland is similar to an Otter that crashed in Alaska in 2010, killing former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens and four others, Johnson said. The plane in the Stevens crash was equipped with floats, while the plane in Sunday's crash had wheels.
It's possible to drive from Anchorage to Soldotna, but it's about a four-hour trip as the highway hugs Turnagain Arm, then cuts through a mountain pass.
Soldotna, with a population of about 4,300, is on the banks of the Kenai River, and the area is busy this time of the year with people fishing for salmon. The airport is located about a mile from a commercial area and has a paved runway that is 5,000 feet long.
Associated Press writers Becky Bohrer in Juneau, Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, S.C., and Shannon Dininny in Yakima, Wash., contributed to this report.
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