No survivors found in small plane’s Denali National Park crash

A wooden outdoor sign says "Denali National Park and Preserve"
A Denali National Park and Preserve sign near the park’s entrance in 2020. (Tegan Hanlon/Alaska Public Media)

Authorities say no one is expected to have survived a small plane crash Wednesday in Denali National Park and Preserve.

Alaska Air National Guard rescue personnel searched the park’s southwest corner Thursday morning, after getting an alert about an overdue pilot.

Park spokesperson Sharon Stiteler said they spotted the wreckage of a small airplane, but were unable to land in the steep terrain.

“The Alaska Guard Rescue Coordination Center found aircraft wreckage in a narrow ravine,” she said. “And, at the time, it wasn’t safe to land.”

Alaska National Guard spokesperson Alan Brown said Thursday the Rescue Coordination Center plans to fly into the area again Friday morning, weather permitting.

“We launched a UH-60 Pavehawk helicopter with some pararescuemen aboard to go search, and that search is ongoing,” he said.

Clint Johnson, the National Transportation Safety Board’s Alaska chief, said the Guard sent another flight into the area later Thursday for a second look at the wreckage from the air.

“It does not appear, from their estimation, that this was a survivable accident,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the NTSB investigator assigned to the crash hopes to be able to get back to the site Friday morning and take a closer look on the ground.

“As long as we can get in there safely, if terrain conditions allow, and weather conditions allow,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the crew aboard the second flight identified the aircraft as a Piper PA-18 Super Cub. But he says the NTSB is withholding the plane’s tail number and victim’s name until next of kin is notified.

He said investigators won’t know whether there was a passenger on board until they’re on the ground, but it appears the flight was hunting-related. 

“This airplane was supporting a hunting group,” Johnson said. “And we don’t know if it was on the outbound trip or the inbound trip.”

Stiteler said Thursday her agency didn’t have any information to release on the aircraft or its pilot. But she said it makes sense that it could have been a hunter.

“There are a number of reasons that someone could be going into that area of the park this time of year, up to and including for hunting,” she said.

Johnson said the NTSB should have more information Friday afternoon from the ongoing investigation.

Correction: An earlier version misstated the day of the plane crash. The plane was reported overdue Wednesday.

Tim Ellis is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

Previous articleAlaska News Nightly: Thursday, August 10, 2023
Next articleTrooper citations for salmon discards add grist to regional Alaska fishery dispute