The Seward Highway is known for its picturesque views and the access it provides to Alaska’s wild places.
But the beauty and nature of the road can become a siren's call, leading people into trouble.
“It was very picturesque,” said Joshua Levi, who was visiting Alaska from Washington, D.C. “I had no idea that it could be dangerous.”
Alaska State Troopers say 39-year old Girdwood resident Jason Small was killed when his pickup truck was hit head-on by a large passenger van being driven by 72-year old Anchorage resident Lewis Hayes.
Seven others were in the van. A Suburban with eight on board was also hit head-on by the van.
Even for this stretch of road, Troopers say it was an immense scene.
“We've got a vehicle that's fully engulfed in fire,” said Trooper Sgt. Michael Zweifel, one of the first-responders on the scene. “We have flames shooting 20, 30 feet in the air. We've got smoke covering the entire highway where you can't see past the vehicles. In front of that I have a van with two people entrapped in it, and just behind that van I have a pickup truck with another person entrapped in that vehicle. We've got people walking over the highway. Every time I turned around, I came across people that were injured and were involved in it.”
Besides Small's death, everyone involved was injured in some way. Hayes was airlifted to Anchorage.
Thursday’s fatal collision serves as a fleeting reminder that people need to take extra care on the Seward Highway.
Since 1997, more than 100 people have lost their lives between Potter marsh and Girdwood.
Just a quarter-mile from Thursday's wreck site is another reminder of the potential dangers. A state street sign, surrounded by flowers, marks the spot where Ken and Liz Wardwell lost their lives in 2006 when a driver lost control while speeding, and hit them from behind.
Troopers say the best way to stay safe here is to pay attention to the right things.
“Watch out for the other drivers and watch the road and not the scenery,” Zweifel said.
The hope is that someday, the only flowers that can be seen along the Seward Highway won't be daisies, carnations and roses, but instead will be wild.
Since May of 2006, when it was designated a highway safety corridor, the stretch of road between Potter Marsh and Girdwood has seen about a third of the deaths per year it did before.
There are about $600 million of proposed highway improvements planned for the roadway, but much of that work is still years away.
Troopers say they believe Thursday's crash began when the van driver, Hayes, crossed the center line of the highway. They have not yet determined why that happened.