By Yereth Rosen
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - A small plane crashed near a mountain checkpoint along the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, killing all three people aboard, state officials said on Tuesday.
Searchers found wreckage of the plane, a Cessna 182, on Tuesday near the 4,000-foot level of Rainy Pass in the Alaska Range north of Anchorage.
Rainy Pass is one of the early checkpoints in the 1,000-mile Iditarod, which began in Anchorage on Saturday.
The search began late on Monday when the plane was reported missing, the Alaska National Guard said. It failed to reach its destination of Takotna, an Athabascan village that serves as a race checkpoint 176 miles beyond Rainy Pass.
Killed were pilot Ted Smith, 59, a retired Anchorage police officer, and passengers Carolyn Sorvoja, 48, and Rosemarie Sorvoja, 10, the Alaska State Troopers said. All were from Eagle River.
The plane and those aboard were not part of the "Iditarod Air Force," the group of volunteer pilots who ferry supplies and race officials to checkpoints and take dropped dogs back to Anchorage, said a race spokeswoman.
"All our pilots and all our folks are accounted for," Iditarod spokeswoman Erin McLarnon said.
But skies above the Iditarod Trail are typically busy during the race with numerous other small aircraft carrying spectators.
It was unclear whether the crash victims were following the Iditarod, said Megan Peters, a spokeswoman for the Alaska State Troopers said. She said the two females were mother and daughter.
The wreckage was found by an Air National Guard helicopter crew. The victims' bodies were recovered, and an investigation into the crash has been launched, Alaska National Guard officials said.
(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Carol Bishopric)