Former Sterling man's plane crashes in Denali

Posted: Thursday, August 05, 2010

A former Sterling pilot was among those who died when a cargo aircraft crashed in Denali National Park last weekend.

Bill Michel, 61, was flying the Fairchild C-123 that went down Sunday afternoon within a mile of the park headquarters and about 200 yards north of the only road into the park.

Two other men, John Eshlemen, 52, and Paul Quartly, 66, both of Wasilla, also died in the crash.

Park Spokeswoman Kris Fister said that the road re-opened yesterday. The plane essentially disintegrated on impact, park spokeswoman Fister said. No one on the ground was injured.

Michel was the owner of All West Freight Inc. of Delta Junction. The park service says the identities were determined through friends and relatives familiar with the plane and the intended flight.

According to information provided in an obituary, Michel moved to Alaska in the early 70's at the age of 24. He made a living building roads at first, but eventually found work as a bush pilot. His obituary states that he flew his first plane at the age of 15.

"He was a great guy, always straightforward," said Kenai Peninsula Assembly member Gary Knopp. "There was no pretense about him. He was very sincere."

Chris Heintz, of Sterling, remembers watching Michel's plane fly over her property. "Wild Bill," as he was referred too, still zipped over her house every now and then even after moving his business to Delta Junction.

"He was more of a local here than in Delta," she said.

National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration investigators arrived at the crash site Monday, as did a representative of the state medical examiner's office from Anchorage.

Investigators have conducted an aerial overview of the crash site, Fister said. Part of the investigation will be to determine the flight origination, destination and cargo.

The crash started a small wildfire. Fister said hot shot fire crews left the scene after containing the fire to one acre and had turned over jurisdiction to park personnel.

Tony Cella can be reached at The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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