Five people are believed to have died in Saturday’s crash of a flightseeing plane near Denali, the deadliest crash of an air taxi in the Alaska Range in decades. A National Park Service ranger found four bodies in the wreckage during a search made brief by weather Monday at the precarious site. The word that no one survived Saturday’s crash dashed hopes that the occupants might be alive. The plane’s pilot survived the crash and made contact twice before communications ended, reports the Anchorage Daily News.
A fifth person aboard the K2 Aviation de Havilland Beaver was not found but is presumed dead, authorities say. The wreckage was located almost 11,000 feet up a remote mountain near North America’s tallest peak and came to rest perched on a steep glacier.
The passengers are from Poland but their names have not been released. The park service is in contact with the Polish Consulate in Los Angeles. The trip was booked through a tour company in Poland, according to park service spokeswoman Katherine Belcher.
It wasn’t immediately clear how many people survived the initial crash. The plane was equipped with an emergency survival kit, including sleeping bags, a stove, and pot to boil water, food and a first-aid kit. The pilot had been able to make two calls by satellite phone in the hour after the crash and reported injuries before communication with the plane ended. Rescuers took advantage of a brief window of clearing weather Monday morning to spot the wreckage for the first time since the plane went down at about 6 pm Saturday. Then a ranger was lowered to the scene. The ranger who got to the plane Monday said it appeared highly unlikely people had moved around after the crash.
The plane crashed near the summit of what’s known locally as Thunder Mountain, a feature roughly 14-miles southwest of the summit of Denali, in extremely technical terrain on a hanging glacier, in steep terrain in a crevasse on the side of the mountain, according to Chris Erickson, the climbing ranger who confirmed that none of the people in the plane survived. It was windy and the temperature was about freezing, maybe just below. The ridge where the plane crashed was described by searchers as “a mix of near-vertical rock, ice, and snow.”
K2 announced Monday it is suspending flightseeing tours until further notice “as we give our staff time to grieve this loss.” The park service on Monday afternoon identified the pilot as Craig Layson of Saline, Michigan. The Saline Post newspaper said Monday that Layson and his wife had spent the past two summers in Alaska.