Denali crash searchers seek ‘window’ in poor weather
Mountaineering rangers with the National Park Service spent five hours trying to get eyes on wreckage from a flightseeing plane that crashed into the mountains of Denali National Park, leaving five people dead or presumed dead.
South District Ranger Tucker Chenoweth said a team of two rangers flew out by helicopter and landed on the Kahiltna Glacier to watch for changing conditions.
“The weather in the range was pretty good. But Thunder Ridge is in a difficult spot in the shadow of Mount Hunter and it collected clouds all day,” Chenoweth said.
Spokesperson Katherine Belcher said Thunder Mountain, the area where the plane crashed, was shrouded in clouds and the team had to call off their efforts to revisit the K2 Aviation plane Thursday afternoon. An initial flight by the park's A-Star B3e high-altitude helicopter was grounded after about an hour by poor weather.
The crash site is a 25-minute flight from Talkeetna. Thursday afternoon the weather was sunshine and blue skies in the small tourist town. Belcher said the weather can change hour by hour on the mountain, though.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash. The agency is waiting for better weather to get investigators on a fixed-wing aircraft to survey the area.
Four Polish tourists, as well as Michigan pilot Craig Layson, were on board the de Havilland Beaver when it struck the ridge near Denali at an altitude of almost 11,000 feet. The crashed plane sits in a crevasse in a hanging glacier, precluding attempts to safely reach it by climbing.
During a Wednesday news conference, search authorities said they would need a day of clear weather to retrieve the four bodies found in the plane during a brief search Monday and look for the fifth occupant missing and presumed dead.
National Park Service Rangers will go back out in a helicopter Friday morning to resume recovery efforts.
“Recovery efforts are a different mission than going in for viable people, so the pace is slowed down. We’re looking for a big weather window to be able to assess this site where we can reduce the risk,” Chenoweth said.
Scott Jensen and Chris Klint contributed information to this story.
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