The search for five survivors on board a crashed flightseeing plane out of Talkeetna, Alaska is set to resume Monday morning, more than a day after its Saturday crash in Denali National Park. Air National Guard helicopters as well as two K2 planes flew to the area Saturday night and were able to fly within a fifth of a mile of the plane’s GPS coordinates, but cloud cover prevented the crew from spotting the crash and they weren’t able to make radio contact, the park service said.
“The pilot was able to make a satellite phone call to K2 Aviation. He did report some injuries, he made another phone call about an hour later at 7 pm, and that is the last known communication anyone has had with the pilot.”
The search resumed Sunday morning at around 5 am, but the weather has been “the deciding factor” preventing aircraft from reaching the site, said David Bedard, a spokesman with the 176th wing of the Air National Guard in Anchorage. Pilots had been unable to see through the “soup” of cloudy weather, he said early Sunday afternoon.
Pilots are set to take off at 7:30 am Monday to keep looking for the K2 Aviation flightseeing plane near the summit of what’s known as Thunder Mountain at an elevation of nearly 11,000 feet. A ground ascent of Thunder Mountain is not considered an option due to significant rockfall and unstable snow and cornice conditions at this time of the year.
“It’s a very tricky terrain up there,” National Park Service spokeswoman Katherine Belcher said Sunday. “It’s basically a sheer vertical cliff: lots of ice, lots of snow, lots of rock.”
K2 said it’s fully cooperating with multiple agencies involved in the response, including the National Transportation Safety Board that will investigate the accident. A spokeswoman for K2 Aviation, Jennifer Thompson, emailed a statement late Sunday afternoon saying the company has canceled flight tours until further notice.
Each de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver, like the one that crashed, is equipped with survival gear including food, sleeping bags, a pot and a stove. But, what the pilot and his four passengers really need right now is better weather. Temperatures overnight Sunday near the crash site were expected to range from the 20-degree range to freezing, with a nearly 90 percent chance of snow.
“The entire K2 family sends their thoughts and prayers to the families of our guests and the pilot involved in the incident,” the statement said. “We are extremely grateful for the support of our community both here in Talkeetna, and from our tour partners everywhere.”