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Originally published January 25, 2010 at 9:03 PM | Page modified January 26, 2010 at 9:53 AM

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Corrected version

Pilot killed in Alaska plane crash was 4th- generation flier in her family

Emily Lewis, 23, one of the pilots killed in a plane crash near Sand Point, Alaska, on Thursday night came from a long line of pilots — all the way back to her great-grandfather. Having grown up on the Eastside and in Kent, she was in Alaska working for an air- cargo company.

Seattle Times staff reporter

How could she not become an airplane pilot? It was in her heart, in her DNA, say those who knew Emily Lewis.

At 23, she was the fourth generation of female fliers in her family.

On Monday afternoon, her dad, Leigh Lewis, his heart broken, was talking on a cellphone from a boat about a mile and a half off Sand Point along the Aleutian chain in Alaska. It was where his daughter had died at around midnight Thursday.

The young woman, who grew up on the Eastside and in Kent, had been co-pilot on a 58-foot Beechcraft 1900C cargo plane when it crashed shortly after takeoff from Sand Point. The pilot, Ameer Ali, 28, also died.

The pilots worked for ACE Air Cargo out of Anchorage and were flying there with a load of fish and mail.

Their bodies have been recovered, but on Monday there was a search for wreckage, which the Coast Guard said had spread over three miles. Leigh Lewis felt he had to be there to help find the answers.

When a major part of the wreckage was found in about 30 feet of water, the two pilots were still strapped in their seats, said a spokeswoman for Alaska State Troopers. The spokeswoman said she didn't know the condition of the plane — "if it was torn apart or what."

People in the area reported hearing what sounded like an engine dying Thursday night followed by "an impact noise," according to the Anchorage Daily News.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it would take six months to a year for a final report on what caused the crash. First, as much as possible of the wreckage has to be gathered.

On Monday, the phone connection with Leigh Lewis was patchy. But the emotion in his voice came through the static.

Lewis himself is a pilot, with FedEx. He lives in Sebastian, Fla. When he heard about the accident, he immediately made his way to Alaska.

His daughter loved flying, he said. "It was her passion in life."

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He said, "I taught her how to fly. She soloed on her 16th birthday."

He began talking about Emily being an expert snow skier, scuba diver and sky diver.

Then the cellphone connection was cut short.

In the coastal town of Westport in this state, Emily's grandmother, Beryl Lewis, 78, also had to pause while talking on the phone as emotion overwhelmed her.

She spoke about a family in which the women and men have always piloted small planes.

She said she had begun flying at age 15 while growing up in Thief River Falls in Northern Minnesota.

"My dad learned how to fly in 1928, and it went from there. He taught us all to fly," she said.

The female fliers included not only Beryl Lewis but her sister, Jackie, and the sisters' mom, Clara.

After Beryl Lewis got married — to a pilot, of course — their son, Leigh, took up flying.

And when Leigh married, he taught his wife, Jo Ann (they're now divorced), how to fly. Then their daughter, Emily, and their son, Wade, became pilots.

"I guess we're just a bunch of flying people," Beryl Lewis concluded. "It's just in the bones."

She said she had talked to her granddaughter about a week ago.

The young woman was engaged to Jerral Rydman, who, needless to say, is a pilot. She asked her grandmother to send her addresses of various people to be invited to the wedding.

The young couple met in 2008 when both worked for a company that flew banners from planes along the Maryland coast.

Rydman is from Utah. He also worked there flying crop-dusting planes. In 2009, Emily joined him in that kind of farm work.

Then, when she got a job piloting with ACE Air Cargo, he followed her to Alaska, working at a sports and recreation facility while waiting for a piloting job to open up.

On Monday, Rydman was with Leigh Lewis off the coast of Sand Point, searching for wreckage.

Rydman's dad, also a pilot, is Roy Rydman, of Heber City, Utah.

The elder Rydman knew his future daughter-in-law, and he had to pause on the phone to get control of his emotions.

"She was such a sweet gal. I'm sorry I'm breaking up. It's tough," he said.

Rydman said he understood full well why his son, and why Emily's dad, had to be searching the waters off Sand Point.

"You'd be there, wouldn't you?" he said. "What else can you do? It's called closure."

The Westport/Grayland Chamber of Commerce transmitted the photo of Emily Lewis.

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com

Information in this story, published Jan. 25, was corrected Jan. 26. The plane is a Beechcraft 1900C, not a 1990C.

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