Poor weather clouded hopes Wednesday of recovering anything from a crash near Denali which left at least four people dead last weekend, as crews and consular officials worked to bring the victims’ families closure.

Denali National Park and Preserve spokeswoman Katherine Belcher said conditions Wednesday prevented teams from reaching Saturday’s crash site, nearly 11,000 feet high on the Thunder Mountain ridgeline. Helicopter crews would require roughly three to four hours of clear weather to properly examine the site.

A park ranger briefly lowered to the site from a helicopter Monday found four people dead in the K2 Aviation de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver, with the fifth occupant missing and believed dead.

Wednesday’s search priorities included finding the fifth person, among four Polish tourists and as well as Michigan pilot Craig Layson, who wasn’t discovered Monday. Crews also wanted to assess the plane’s stability for future recovery efforts.

 
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The National Transportation Safety Board’s Shaun Williams, who is examining the crash along with fellow investigator Noreen Price, gave a grim description of the crash site in a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

“The aircraft came to rest in a crevasse in a hanging glacier, which makes assessing the scene very dangerous,” Williams said. “There was no post-crash fire; however, the wreckage was severely fragmented – the right wing was separated from the aircraft and is estimated to be a few hundred feet down from the crash site.”

Although investigators still hope to examine the aircraft, Williams said, other resources remain should the Beaver prove to be unrecoverable.

“We'll use what we do have,” Williams said. “We'll use the pictures, we'll use all the information we have as far as the pilot records, the environment, the maintenance records.”

The park’s south district ranger, Tucker Chenoweth, is also acting as incident commander for the search. He said names of the deceased passengers were still being withheld at the request of Polish officials as efforts to retrieve the deceased continue.

"We know that the recovery phase is going to take a long time; the extrication process will be long," Chenoweth said. "So what we're looking for is an area that we can work and put personnel in that can be there for an extended amount of time. That includes the current weather pattern, that includes the stability of the aircraft on the slope, and then the ability for us to get to the location through technical terrain."

Although park officials are hoping for five hours of clear weather to properly reach the scene, Chenoweth said searchers would need at least a day to retrieve bodies. The best bet for that window of time, however, might arrive as soon as Thursday or Friday.

“We hope,” Chenoweth said.

Liz Raines contributed information to this story.

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