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Deaths of two families in plane crash shock South Carolina town

By Thom Patterson, CNN
updated 4:07 PM EDT, Wed July 10, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Plane crash kills 9 people from two different South Carolina families
  • The McManus and Antonakos families of Greenville included five children
  • FAA: The plane "struck the runway and burned" on takeoff Sunday southwest of Anchorage
  • The plane's pilot also died in the crash, officials said

(CNN) -- The stunning news has been spreading through the city of Greenville, South Carolina, shaking residents in a way they hadn't felt in recent memory.

Two families -- including five children -- were killed Sunday in a plane crash while vacationing together in Soldotna, Alaska, about 65 miles southwest of Anchorage. They were all passengers in a small, single-engine plane that crashed on takeoff into the runway at the town's airport, officials said.

While much of the country focuses on the intensely covered plane crash in San Francisco, many of Greenville's approximately 60,000 residents have been thinking about Soldotna. The Alaskan town sits thousands of miles away, but this crash feels much closer to home.

"Without a doubt, it's the most devastating tragedy I think we've had to experience since I've been here," said Scott Sanders, a 21-year Greenville resident. "Losing two entire families -- it just doesn't happen."

Greenville was mourning Dr. Chris McManus; his wife, Stacey McManus; and their children, Meghan and Connor, said Johnathan Bragg, a spokesman for the Greenville Police Department. McManus was a radiologist who practiced at a local hospital.

The National Transportation Safety Board has sent a team to Soldotna, Alaska, to investigate the crash of a small single-engine plane on Sunday, July 7. All 10 people on board were killed. The National Transportation Safety Board has sent a team to Soldotna, Alaska, to investigate the crash of a small single-engine plane on Sunday, July 7. All 10 people on board were killed.
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Also killed aboard the plane were the Antonakos family: Milton "Melet" Antonakos; his wife, Kimberly Antonakos; and their children Mills, Ana and Olivia, Bragg said. All the children ranged in age from grade school to high school, said Sanders.

Melet Antonakos worked in medical equipment sales while Kimberly Antonakos served as a president of a parent/teacher group, according to The Greenville News.

"You name it, if you needed somebody to volunteer, you called Kim Antonakos and she was there," State Rep. Bruce Bannister told the newspaper.

Bannister, who lives just down the street from the Antonakos home, told CNN he and Melet Antonakos had become good friends. Melet was Antonakos' traditional family Greek name. "He was 'Melet' to his friends and 'Milton' to his business associates," Bannister said. The Bannister family's son was a classmate of 12-year-old Ana.

Now Bannister tells his children the Antonakos family "got to go to heaven together."

In light of the San Francisco plane crash, Bannister said that sometimes it's hard to really appreciate the significance tragedies have when they take place far away.

"You hear about a plane crash in California and you're in Greenville, South Carolina, and you think, 'that's a terrible tragedy.' And now you hear about a plane crash and you think about the Antonakoses and how those families connected to the crash out there in California are feeling. You really recognize how huge these tragedies are."

Both families were "very involved in their community, very involved in their church and their schools," said Sanders, who is president of a swimming pool where some of the children went. "Very few people here have not been touched by this tragedy."

Christ Church, where the families worshipped, has been especially striken by the news. Sunday school teacher Heather Meadors, who taught the children of both families as toddlers, told The Greenville News she felt "like there's a big black cloud over Christ Church right now."

McManus had been named among the nation's best physicians in 2011, according to his hospital website. He had a sibling who is employed by Turner Broadcasting, the parent company of CNN.

"Chris was one of our lead interventional radiologists, who brought a number of new and innovative diagnostic and therapeutic tools to the community," McManus' colleague, Dr. C. David Williams, told The Greenville News. "He was an extraordinary physician but also an extraordinary human being who was known to be both compassionate and conscientious."

The Antonakoses and McManuses were bound for Bear Mountain Lodge off Alaska's Chinitna Bay, about 80 miles southwest of Soldotna, the lodge's co-owner, Mac McGahan, told CNN on Monday.

In addition to the families, the pilot of the plane also died in the crash, authorities said, putting the death toll at 10.

The de Havilland DHC-3 Otter "struck the runway and burned," the FAA said, citing local law enforcement officials. By the time firefighters and medics arrived, the aircraft was engulfed, Soldotna police said. The plane was operated by Rediske Air, according to the FAA. The National Transportation Safety Board has sent a team to the crash site Tuesday and were investigating.

This isn't the first NTSB case for Rediske.

In August 2011, a Rediske Air Cessna got stuck in sand after a sightseeing excursion, the NTSB said, damaging its propeller. The NTSB lists a 2004 incident when a pilot taxiing a Rediske Cessna at an airport in Trading Bay hit a 55-gallon drum of soap, bending the plane's propeller. No one was reported hurt in either incident.

In Greenville, the children's classmates were mourning their loss.

Students from J.L. Mann High School -- where Olivia Antonakos was about to start her junior year -- had flowers delivered to the family's home, The State reported. Classmates also left a guest book for mourners to sign, according to the paper. Olivia's involvement in the school stretched from the school varsity basketball team, to student government. Her classmates had just elected her the student body secretary.

That's five children lost -- whose hopeful promise of a fruitful and productive life will go unfulfilled.

It's a whole family ... There's nobody to take a casserole to.
State Rep. Bruce Bannister, family friend

"It's just a loss for the school and for the whole community," Charles Mayfield, the school's principal, told The State. "They were just good people. They thought of others before they thought of themselves. To lose the whole family, it's just really shocking."

For the city as a whole, Bannister said church members, friends and neighbors of the two families will be gathering for prayer and memorials during the coming days.

But the mourning seems more difficult somehow. "This is especially hard because it's a whole family," he said. "There's this void. There's nobody to console, because there's nobody at the Antonakos house. There's nobody to take a casserole to. Everybody wants to do something, but there's nobody to do anything for."

There's little else to do, Bannister said, except to lean on each other.

This unforgettable tragedy, he said, "has almost brought us closer together."

CNN's Aaron Cooper, Meridith Edwards, Rene Marsh, Cristy Lenz and Justin Lear contributed to this report.

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