Five Presumed Dead In Alaska Crash

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Thunder Mountain: NPS

Thunder Mountain: NPS

A pilot and four tourists from Poland are reported to have died after a de Havilland Beaver crashed at about 11,000 feet near the summit of Thunder Mountain in Denali National Park, in Alaska, during a sightseeing flight on Saturday. It was the first fatal crash of an air taxi in the Alaska range since 2003, according to the National Park Service. The pilot reported the crash on his satellite phone, and said everyone survived but there were injuries. No further details were relayed before the connection was dropped. Due to low cloud cover and weather and the steep terrain, rescuers were unable to reach the airplane until Monday morning. They confirmed there were four people on board, but all were dead. The fifth person is believed to also be in the airplane, but due to the hazardous conditions, rescuers were on the site for only a few minutes and were unable to thoroughly search the wreck. The flight was operated by K2 Aviation, based in Talkeetna.

Thunder Mountain has been described by the National Park Service as more of a ridge than a mountain, according to National Parks Traveler. It stretches roughly a mile long from east to west and rises about 3,000 feet above two nearby glaciers. Terrain in the vicinity of the crash site is characterized as extremely steep and a mix of near-vertical rock, ice and snow, the NPS said. On Sunday, flight crews with the Air National Guard patrolled the area in a C-130, and two HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters conducted aerial overflights of the accident zone, but search conditions were hampered by zero visibility and low cloud cover.

The rescue effort also included flights by the NPS high-altitude helicopter and a U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook from Fort Wainwright in Talkeetna. On Monday morning, “An NPS ranger was short-hauled to the crash site (suspended beneath the helicopter) where he dug through the snow that had filled the aircraft and found the bodies of four of the five passengers," NPS wrote in a statement. "There were no footprints or disturbances leading away from the site and there were no other signs to indicate any of the passengers made it out of the plane."

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