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Anchorage Daily News

Pilots Ameer Ali, 28, and Emily Lewis, 23, had been missing since the ACE Air Cargo Beechcraft 1900 they were flying went down around midnight Thursday night. The plane was carrying fish and mail to Anchorage.

Shortly before noon Sunday, searchers discovered what appeared to be a part of the plane, said troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters. A diver soon found two bodies inside, she said.

Ali was the pilot and Lewis the co-pilot. While Peters said the bodies likely hadn’t been identified Sunday, there was no one else on the plane, according to rescuers.

The Coast Guard called off its search for survivors Friday night, but Sunday representatives for ACE Air Cargo and an insurance company continued to look for wreckage, said Aaron Sauer, an air-safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board.

Searching a grid with boats, they found portions of the airplane in about 30 to 40 feet of water, Sauer said. “Two individuals were removed from airplane wreckage out there, and that is all being coordinated with the local authorities.”

Officials couldn’t say precisely where the craft was found, though Sauer estimated it was approximately two miles north of the Sand Point airport.

“They have suspended operations for the evening, and they’re going to be continuing the recovery of the aircraft beginning tomorrow morning [Monday],” he said.

Sand Point is a community of roughly 960 people on Popof Island, off the Alaska Peninsula, 570 miles from Anchorage.

Ali was a former flight mechanic for the U.S. Marines who worked as a well-liked flight instructor in Anchorage before joining ACE, said friends and family.

Lewis grew up in Seattle and recently moved to Alaska to work as a pilot, a family spokesperson told media in an e-mail Sunday.

“She was engaged to be married this year. Emily was a funny, sweet, wonderful person who always loved flying. She will be very much missed by her family and friends,” said a statement from her family.

After the ACE Air Cargo flight was cleared to leave Sand Point for Anchorage late Thursday night, people in the area reported hearing what sounded like the engine dying followed by “an impact noise,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lally.

Others said they saw a bright, orange flickering off the end of the runway toward Unga Island, the Coast Guard said.

The Coast Guard said it received a call about 12:20 a.m. Friday from Sand Point police that fire department responders and others had reported debris in the water off the end of the runway.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.

“It’s like we lost a couple of family members today,” said Stewart Turner, a 23-year-old ACE pilot who sometimes flew with Ali.

Employees at the ACE offices in Anchorage declined to comment on the crash Friday.

Ali and Lewis were taking off in difficult conditions on the last leg of a long day, said Turner, reached on his personal phone. He said the plane was carrying cargo and had plenty of fuel on board.

“For whatever reason, the airplane could not climb,” Turner said.

Ali, 28, grew up in upstate New York and came to Alaska after serving as a flight mechanic in the Marines, said his younger brother, Shareif Ali.

Turner said Lewis recently moved to Alaska, followed by her fiancé. “Before they moved up here they were crop dusters. They flew small aircraft individually, single-seaters.”

Of Lewis, he said, “One of the sweetest girls I’ve ever met, right off the bat.”

Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.