Four dead, one missing after Alaska sightseeing plane crashes

Wreckage of a plane carrying tourists from Poland is located on a mountain ridge near Denali

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 August, 2018, 5:38am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 August, 2018, 5:38am

Searchers said on Monday that they had found four people dead in a sightseeing aeroplane carrying Polish tourists in Alaska’s Denali National Park – a day and a half after thick clouds hampered the response to a distress call.

Another person remains missing and is presumed dead after the crash Saturday evening on a mountain ridge about 14 miles (23kms) southwest of Denali, North America’s tallest mountain. After going down, the pilot reported by satellite phone that passengers suffered injuries but the connection failed before he could give details.

The aeroplane was stocked with sleeping bags, a stove and food, giving hope that survivors would be found despite terrain described by the National Park Service as “extremely steep and a mix of near-vertical rock, ice and snow”.

Low-lying clouds and rainy conditions prevented crews from spotting the wreckage until clearing weather Monday allowed a helicopter to reach the crash site. A park service ranger descended by short-haul line.

The ranger dug through snow that had filled the aircraft and found the bodies of four people. There were no footprints or other disturbances in the snow that would have indicated anyone made it out of the plane, the park service said.

The plane, operated by K2 Aviation, had taken off Saturday evening with a pilot and four passengers from Poland for a tour of Kahiltna Glacier, the jumping-off point for climbers attempting to climb Denali.

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It crashed around 6pm. Saturday near the top of the 10,900-foot (3,300-metre) Thunder Mountain, which rises above the glacier and is described by the park service as more of a mile-long ridge than a mountain.

Climbing season on Denali has ended but sightseeing flights can still land on the glacier, allowing visitors to walk on the ice field, National Park Service spokeswoman Katherine Belcher said.