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Medford pair die in Alaska plane crash

JUNEAU, Alaska — Two Medford residents were among the nine people killed in southeast Alaska when a sightseeing plane crashed Thursday.

The list of the dead released by authorities included Medford resident June Kranenburg, 73, and her husband Leonard Kranenburg, 63.

A recovery crew reached the remote site of the crash Friday. Chris John of the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad said the aircraft was sitting at a steep angle and three members from his organization had to secure it so they could safely work to recover the bodies.

Eight cruise ship passengers and the pilot died when the DeHavilland DHC-3 Otter turboprop went down Thursday in Misty Fjords National Monument near Ketchikan.

The cause of the crash remained under investigation.

June Kranenburg, a longtime local dance instructor, had played a key role in the creation of North Medford High School's ballroom dance class, which P.E. teacher Jeff Olson said quickly became one of the most popular on campus.

"June has been phenomenal — she's unbelievable," Olson said on learning of the crash. "I was just about to email her about the upcoming school year."

Olson described Kranenburg as "tireless," saying she knew "everything there is to know about dance." He said she had taught at Southern Oregon University as well as North Medford, and was very active in the local dance-education community.

Olson said Kranenburg had mentioned to him that she was planning to take a trip with her husband this summer.

Kranenburg is currently listed as an instructor through the Evergreen Ballroom in Central Point.

"Between teaching at North Medford and SOU, and the Evergreen Ballroom, and being a wife and a mother, she's just a phenomenal human being," Olson said.

Esther Freeman, president of the local chapter of USA Dance which brought the ballroom dance program to North Medford High, described Kranenburg as the chapter's "rock."

"She's been with us since the beginning," Freeman said. "I honestly don't know what we're going to do without her."

Freeman said that Kranenburg had taught dance for more than 50 years, having lied about her age to start teaching dance while she was still in school.

"June Kranenburg is dance in our community," Freeman said. "She's inspired so many people."

Freeman said that Kranenburg is survived by three children and an ex-husband.

Authorities tentatively identified the other victims as Rowland Cheney, 71, and Mary Doucette, 59, of Lodi, California; Glenda Cambiaso, 31, and Hugo Cambiaso, 65, of North Potomac, Maryland; Margie Apodaca, 63, and Raymond Apodaca, 70, of Sparks, Nevada; and the pilot, Bryan Krill, 64 of Hope, Idaho.

The plane crashed on a cliff above a lake in steep, muddy and slippery terrain, John said. The fuselage was largely intact but the wings and tail were separated or heavily deformed, he said.

On Thursday, the Coast Guard received a report that the plane was overdue. An emergency locator transmitter activated and a helicopter pilot later spotted the downed aircraft.

Wind and rain prevented any recovery Thursday. Winds were not a concern Friday but there was cloud cover.

A National Transportation Safety Board team was assembled to investigate the crash. Plans were being made to take them to the site on Saturday, John said.

Ketchikan-based airline Promech Air operated the shore excursion offered through Holland America Line. The eight passengers were traveling on the Westerdam on a seven-day cruise that had departed Seattle last Saturday. There were 2,095 passengers on the Westerdam. The cruise ended in Seattle on Saturday, as scheduled.

"We are incredibly distressed by this situation, and our thoughts and prayers are with those onboard the plane and their families," Holland America said in a statement.

The airline echoed those sentiments.

"There is nothing I can say that can alleviate the pain and overwhelming sense of loss that we and the loved ones of those affected are feeling," Marcus Sessoms, president of Promech Air, said in a statement.

A company spokeswoman for Promech Air said Krill had joined the company early this year as a summertime pilot. 

She said Krill was a skilled and experienced pilot with a good safety record. He had flown for many years and had 4,300 hours of flight experience, including roughly 1,700 hours piloting single engine seaplanes. The airplane that crashed is one of five floatplanes operated by the company.

 "Flying in Alaska was a passion of Bryan's — he loved his job and loved what he did," said Sessoms. "His loss will be profoundly felt in the aviation community and by anyone who knew him." 

An autopsy will be performed on Krill's body, said Johnson of the National Transportation Safety Board, standard procedure when any flight crew is killed in an accident.

Seven investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board made it to the crash site on Saturday morning and are spending the day scouring for clues to the disaster, said Clint Johnson, head of the board's Alaska office.

The DeHavilland DHC-3 Otter turboprop — also known as a floatplane — was on its way back from the Misty Fjords National Monument, a wilderness area of lakes, snowcapped peaks and glacial valleys, Johnson said. The terrain where the plane crashed is steep, mountainous, and often sees strong winds and rain.

 Johnson said the airplane's wings and tail broke off during impact, but the fuselage — the body of the plane — was largely intact. Officials said the plane crashed about 25 miles from Ketchikan on a cliff, 800 feet above Ella Lake in steep, muddy terrain. 

Johnson said investigators will likely fly the pieces of the airplane via helicopter line to Ketchikan, where it will be reassembled and checked for any mechanical problems.

Mail Tribune reporter Thomas Moriarty contributed to this report.