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Story Last modified at 8:25 p.m. on Friday, May 27, 2011

Cessna 180 goes down at Birchwood Airport; no survivors
Witnesses saw plane struggle to gain altitude shortly after takeoff

Alaska Star


Rescue personnel examine the wreckage of a Cessna 180 that crashed shortly after takeoff Friday morning, May 27, from the Birchwood Airport. All five onboard died in the accident
Star Photo by Matt Tunseth

A plane carrying five members of a longtime Eagle River family crashed immediately after takeoff from the Birchwood Airport on Friday morning, according to Chugiak Volunteer Fire Department spokesman Jeff Hartley.

There were no survivors.

Friends and witnesses identified the pilot as the plane's owner, Eagle River pilot and aircraft mechanic Lonn Greiner, 46. Four other family members died in the accident, according to Anchorage police spokeswoman Marlene Lammers.

They were Lonn Greiner's mother, 69-year-old Carolyn Greiner, and Lonn Greiner's three children, 13-year-old Glory, 11-year-old Nathan, and 10-year-old Grace.

The family apparently was on its way to Seldovia for an overnight trip, according to police.

Brad Bartlett, a pilot who witnessed the crash from a nearby hangar at about 10:15 a.m., said Greiner, flying a Cessna 180, struggled to gain altitude after taking off toward the south. Bartlett said the plane veered to the left over a stand of trees and crashed facing north on railroad tracks adjacent to the airport.

"It went nose up high to the left, back around and right down,"

Bartlett said. "It was out of control immediately."

As Bartlett spoke about an hour after the crash, members of the Anchorage Fire Department, Anchorage Police and the Chugiak Volunteer Fire Department worked at the scene behind him. All that remained of the plane was a tail section, part of a wing and a pile of smoldering wreckage resting on the tracks adjacent to the airport.

Bartlett said he immediately rushed to the crash site with an axe in one hand and a fire extinguisher in the other. But he and others who responded to the tragedy ("everybody at the airport") could do little to help those inside.

"It was fully engulfed in flames," he said.

Bartlett said he had known Greiner for about 15 years.

"Very good people," Bartlett said.

Eagle River pilot Ed White said Greiner – who owned Talon Air – built White's Cessna 185. White said Greiner was "a fixture" at the airport.

"You can't say enough good things about Lonn Greiner," White said. "He helped build the pilot's shack out here, he helped guys build hangars. It's gonna be a big loss to the Birchwood community for sure."

The National Transportation Safety Board is continuing its investigation into the cause of the accident.

This article published in The Alaska Star on Friday, May 27, 2011.