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Two families killed in plane crash on Alaska vacation were beloved back home

Peninsula Clarion via Reuters

Police and emergency personnel stand near the remains of the plane that crashed Sunday at the Soldotna, Alaska, airport, killing 10 people, including nine members of two South Carlina families..

Federal investigators said Tuesday it would take at least a week to figure out why a small plane crashed shortly after takeoff in Alaska, killing the pilot and nine members of two close-knit South Carolina families.

The plane, a de Havilland DH3 Otter, crashed Sunday as it was leaving the airport in Soldotna, about 70 miles southwest of Anchorage. The families were on the last leg of their 10-day Alaskan vacation, headed for a bear-viewing lodge in Chinitna Bay.

At a briefing for reporters Tuesday, Earl Weener, the National Transportation Safety Board member leading the investigation, offered little information, saying his team wouldn't "speculate or offer analysis until we gather all the facts."

He did reveal that evidence indicated that the plane's right wing and nose slammed into the ground first. He also said five cellphones had been recovered from the scene and would be analyzed for any useful data.

It was also revealed Tuesday that killed were two entire families from Greenville, S.C.: Melet and Kimberly Antonakos and their children, Mills, Anna and Olivia; and Chris and Stacey McManus and their children, Meghan and Conner. The 10th victim was the pilot, Willie Rediske, 42, co-owner of Rediske Air.

Friends and colleagues said the Antonakoses and the McManuses were model families — high-achieving, active in the same church and loved by many in the community.

The Antonakos children were all members of the same swim team in Greenville, which held a prayer vigil for the family Tuesday night, NBC affiliate WYFF of Greenville reported.

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Melet Antonakos worked in medical-related sales, while Kim Antonakos "dedicated herself to the community," said Joel Norwood, a family friend.

"They has such a strong marriage," he said. "It's been over 20 years, and they were committed to each other. They raised three spectacular kids."

Charles Mayfield, principal of J.L. Mann High School, told the station that Olivia Antonakos, a rising junior, had been No. 1 in her class and was a member of the basketball team and the student council.

Ana Antonakos was about to start school at Beck Academy after having made the "All-A" honor roll at Sara Collins Elementary School, Mayfield said.

Mills Antonakos had just graduated from Beck Academy, where he was student body president, and was a rising freshman at J.L. Mann, Norwood said.

Meghan and Connor McManus attended Christ Church Episcopal School, where they got stellar grades and were active in prayer groups and other school activities, Richard Grimball, the school's senior chaplain, told WYFF.

Their mother, Stacey, was about to become head of the Altar Guild, Grimball said. Their father, Chris, was a radiologist with Greenville Health System.

David Williams, chairman of the company's radiology department, called Chris McManus "an extraordinary physician" who was "known to be both compassionate and conscientious."

"Dr. McManus was one of those stellar individuals who was a physician in every sense of the word," Williams told WYFF before breaking down in tears.

"Like everyone else, I'e got a thousand questions," said Grimball, the school chaplain. "I don't know how to describe it — to be here and now you are gone, an entire family."

"I don't think you ever heal. I don't think you ever heal," he said.