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Originally published February 16, 2012 at 8:23 PM | Page modified February 16, 2012 at 8:52 PM

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Unknown why 3 crash victims took Cessna for late-night flight

The owner of a Renton flying school said he was unaware that one of his instructors had taken a single-engine Cessna out on a late-night flight until he learned from investigators that the aircraft had crashed near North Bend, killing three people, including two popular swim coaches.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The owner of a Renton flying school said he was unaware that one of his instructors had taken a single-engine Cessna out on a late-night flight until he learned from investigators that the aircraft had crashed near North Bend, killing all three aboard.

Among those killed in the crash early Wednesday was pilot Rob Marshall Hill, 30, a popular swim coach in South King County and a flight instructor for AcuWings.

His friends, Liz Redling, 29, and Seth Dawson, 31, a fellow swim coach, also died in the crash on Little Si, near North Bend.

Baha Acuner, the executive vice president of AcuWings said he was shocked to learn about the crash. While Hill was a flight instructor, he said, the flight had not been "instructional" and that he'd had no idea that the plane was gone.

"We had no knowledge of when they left, when they took the airplane or what they were doing," said Acuner. "It's devastating."

The plane is believed to have crashed between 1:30 and 2 a.m. Wednesday, according to Mike Fergus, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The investigation into the cause of the crash will be conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and will focus on the weather, the pilot's background and the aircraft's maintenance, Fergus said.

The investigation could take months to complete.

Hill and Dawson coached high-school swim teams as well as at the Valley Aquatics Swim Team in Federal Way, according to swim team co-owner Suzanne Rychlik.

Hill had a special gift for helping young athletes work through their problems, both in and out of the pool, she said.

Knew how to motivate

"He had struggled in school and he was able to motivate the kids to work through their challenges and he was able to make it fun," Rychlik said.

Hill, who had graduated from Federal Way's Decatur High School in 1999, later returned to his alma mater to coach.

Friends and relatives said Hill was well-known and admired in the tight-knit swimming community.

"He was a wonderful coach because he would find the best in everybody," said Hill's sister Becca Goode. "He was the person who looked at people's interior strengths and then had them build on that."

Dawson, an elite swimmer who had once qualified for the Olympic Trials, was skillful in helping athletes of all abilities, she said.

"Sometimes elite athletes struggle to understand what a common athlete goes through," said Rychlik. "But Seth did a really nice job of working with athletes of all levels."

Dawson had won national swim titles while attending California State University, Bakersfield, on a swimming scholarship.

Athletes he coached said he made going to practice exciting rather than a chore.

Amber Cratsenberg, 17, who has won five state titles and plans to attend Virginia Tech, said Dawson encouraged her by telling her he'd be cheering for her at the Olympics.

Lots of encouragement

"He said he was going to watch me go to the Olympics one day and that he'd be so proud of me," she said.

Her friend Sami Hendricks, also 17, said Dawson "did his best to keep us motivated to come to practice and keep a smile on our face."

Dawson was the swimming coach at Kentlake High School.

Redling is listed as a friend of Hill's on his Facebook page, but family members reached at her Federal Way home declined to speak about her.

Fergus, the FAA spokesman, said Wednesday the pilot had not been in contact with air traffic control and that little was known about the plane's itinerary. He declined to comment further Thursday.

NTSB investigator Wayne Pollack said the plane was flying under nighttime visual rules, in which flying without contacting air traffic control is permitted and not unusual.

Goode said members of her family did not know of any particular flight plans her brother had, and that they believe he and the two friends had simply gone for a night flight.

A candlelight vigil for the victims will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Decatur High School.

Christine Clarridge: cclarridge@seattletimes.com or 206-464-8983.

Seattle Times news researchers Miyoko Wolf and Gene Balk contributed to this report, which includes information from Times archives.

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