ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — About 100 vehicles from police and fire departments escorted the remains of two Alaska State Trooper employees Wednesday as a federal probe was launched into the cause of the rescue helicopter crash that killed them.
Pilot Mel Nading, 55, Trooper Tage Toll, 50, and injured snowmobiler Carl Ober, 56, died Saturday night in the crash about 10 miles east of Talkeetna. The Alaska Air National Guard spotted the wreckage Sunday morning.
Nading and Toll had searched for and picked up Ober, who used his cellphone to call for assistance after injuring himself on a snowmobile trip. Ober had said he may have broken his ribs and that he did not have gear that would have allowed him to spend the night outdoors.
Nading flew north from Anchorage and picked up Toll to serve as a spotter. They found Ober near Larson Lake and helped him onto the helicopter.
The flight to Talkeetna, where medics were waiting, should have taken only about five minutes. The helicopter crashed near the south end of Larson Lake.
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board visited the burned wreckage of the helicopter Tuesday.
The flight before the crash "was very short. It's within probably two or three miles," investigator Clint Johnson told the Anchorage Daily News (http://bit.ly/YwjNaH ).
The seven-member NTSB team flew to Larson Lake on Tuesday and landed on skis. Troopers on snowmobiles escorted them to the crash site.
"There was a post-crash fire, so the majority of the wreckage was incinerated," Johnson said. "It came to rest inverted."
Debris was not scattered, Johnson said, but nearby spruce trees had been damaged.
The National Weather Service reported light rain turning to snow at the Talkeetna airport at the time the troopers picked up the snowmobiler, with 10 miles of visibility. Investigators are asking residents about the weather to understand the conditions.
"Right now, it's a little early to draw conclusions," Johnson said.
NTSB investigators often worked with Nading on crashes. A Chicago investigator is leading the NTSB review to maintain agency objectivity, Johnson said.
"In the 16 years I've been in this job, working in this office, we've only done that one other time," Johnson said.
Nading had flown on hundreds of search-and-rescue missions since he was hired in December 2000. He was cautious about weather, said trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters.
"The only thing different about this that I can see is Mel didn't come home. Helo 1 didn't come back," she said, referring to the agency helicopter that went down. "There's nothing about this pickup that I can see that could explain what happened. I guess this is one of those things where there's not going to be an easy answer."
The remains of Nading and Toll, a 10-year veteran based in Talkeetna, were escorted from the state medical examiner's office to funeral homes.
Troopers announced Nading's funeral will be at noon Saturday at ChangePoint Church in south Anchorage. Services for Toll are scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday at Wasilla Bible Church.