Military officials say air show will go on despite deadly military plane crash

A popular air show will be held this weekend, days after four people were killed when a military cargo plane crashed at an Anchorage base during a training demonstration for the event, military officials said Thursday.

The Wednesday evening crash at Elmendorf Air Force Base came three days before the scheduled start of the Arctic Thunder air show and open house, set to run Saturday through Sunday. Officials have said more than 170,000 people are expected to attend.

The names of the four men on board the C-17 have not been released pending notification of relatives. Three were in the Alaska Air National Guard, and the fourth was on active duty at Elmendorf. The C-17 was part of the 3rd Wing, based at Elmendorf.

The plane went down about a minute after it took off, officials said. The crash sent a fireball hundreds of feet into the air and damaged a section of the Alaska Railroad's main track, forcing the railroad to close a stretch of the line. The line is traveled heavily by tourists who now will be transported through the area by motor coach until repairs are made, the railroad said.

"We do this to both honor the loss of our four airmen and also to pay respect to all service members who make the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms," Air Force Col. John McMullen, the 3rd Wing commander, said in a statement about the air show. "We hope our friends and neighbors throughout Alaska will come out and join us."

Earlier in the day, McMullen said a decision on whether the show would go on as planned would be based on assessing what's best for the wing and the public.

"Obviously, this is a huge tragedy," he said. "But at some point, we're going to need to get up and we're going to need to press on and move forward."

Also to go on as scheduled is a Friday ceremony activating a unit that will manage Elmendorf and adjacent Fort Richardson, which are being turned into one joint operation named Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. The merger is slated for completion by October.

Meanwhile, a military investigative team will try to determine the cause of the crash, the second this summer in Anchorage. A child was killed and four other people were burned when a small plane crashed in June after taking off from the city's small-plane airport near downtown.

Days later, a small plane landed on a busy highway in Anchorage. No was injured.

In response to the C-17 crash, Gov. Sean Parnell ordered state flags lowered to half-staff until Tuesday.

"The four who were on the aircraft were not only patriots in service to our nation, they were part of our greater Alaskan family," Parnell said in a statement.