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Aviation family mourns for the second time in two weeks

By Chris Reinolds Kozelle, CNN
Alaska Air National Guard Maj. Aaron Malone died two weeks ago in plane crash outside Anchorage, Alaska.
Alaska Air National Guard Maj. Aaron Malone died two weeks ago in plane crash outside Anchorage, Alaska.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Pilot Terry Smith died in a plane crash Monday in Alaska
  • His son-in-law, Aaron Malone, died in a plane crash July 28 in Alaska
  • Smith's wife and daughter are both licensed pilots
  • Ted Stevens, former Alaska senator, also died in the crash
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(CNN) -- Terry Smith decided a fishing trip might bring him some peace after his son-in-law was killed two weeks ago in plane crash outside Anchorage, Alaska.

But in a cruel twist, the small plane flown by Smith and carrying eight passengers crashed Monday into the side of a mountain near Dillingham, Alaska. The crash killed Smith and four others, including former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens.

The loss of two family members "is unbearable for the family," said Alice Rogoff, family friend and publisher of the Alaska Dispatch online magazine. "Sadly this is life in Alaska because this is the form of daily transportation."

On July 28, Smith's son-in-law, Alaska Air National Guard Maj. Aaron Malone, was among four airmen who died when a cargo plane crashed during a training mission near Elmendorf Air Force Base. He is survived by his wife, Melanie, and his three young children.

Smith was preparing to assume more of a fatherly role for his daughter.

"I last saw him Monday night a week ago. He was talking through his tears about his son-in-law and what a fabulous man he was. He was about to be the father figure for these three little grandsons of his," Rogoff said.

A love of flying coursed through the veins of the Malone and Smith families. Smith's daughter, Melanie Malone, has her commercial pilot's license, Rogoff said. Smith's son flies and is an airplane mechanic. And Terry Smith and his wife, Terri, are both commercially rated pilots who flew their own trekking business.

Smith's wife is also steeped in the aviation business as her family owned Ellis Airlines, which later merged with Alaska Airlines.

"This family is aviation nobility," Rogoff said.

Smith, who retired from Alaska Airlines in 2007 after a 28-year career, also flew as captain on two historic flights across the Bering Sea in the late 1980s that laid the groundwork for Alaska Airlines to offer the first U.S.-scheduled service to the Russian Far East. The Boeing 737-200 used on those flights bears Smith's name and is now on exhibit at the Alaska Aviation Museum in Anchorage, according to a company statement.

"I just want everyone who hears about this man to understand the quality of his judgment. He was the dean of serious pilots in this state, and he taught everybody else those standards," Rogoff said. "What happened here is four people survived -- that's what he accomplished."

Cleve McDonald has flown, hunted and fished with Smith for more than 30 years. He uses words such as mentor, teacher and leader when referring to his longtime friend.

McDonald spoke with him recently at his daughter's wedding in July. Four days later, Aaron Malone died.

"[Aaron] was a superstar, and had great credibility amongst his peers. He was a great dad, and a great family man just like [Smith]. ... This is a tremendous blow to the family," he said.

McDonald said friends and family have been arriving in the community of Eagle River in Anchorage to support Smith's wife and family.

"We're holding her," he said, adding that Terri Smith and Melanie Malone have to be strong for each other.

McDonald said right now, the wounds are raw, but he can't imagine the family abandoning their love of flying.

"They own airplanes, live on a lake and tie their airplanes up out in front of their house," he said. "That's the dynamics of the group. ... Aviation kind of gets in your blood. We all live and breathe and do this not only for fun but living. [Smith] was the happiest when he was driving an airplane with a big smile on his face and his hand on the throttle."

 
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