Pilot & Passenger Of Denali Park Crash Have Been Identified

Helicopter Access To Downed Craft Is High Risk Due To Ravines & Terrain  Denali National Park (Photo, Country Journal  Denali Park, AK –...

Helicopter Access To Downed Craft Is High Risk Due To Ravines & Terrain 

Denali National Park (Photo, Country Journal 

Denali Park, AK – After three reconnaissance flights to the site of a PA-18 aircraft accident in the southwest preserve of Denali National Park and Preserve, officials have determined that pilot Jason Tucker, age 45 of Wasilla, AK, and passenger Nicolas Blace, age 44 of Chugiak, AK, are presumed to have died in the crash.

On Wednesday, August 9 the Alaska Air National Guard Rescue Coordination Center (AKRCC) was informed of an overdue aircraft in Denali National Park’s southwest preserve. An initial search flight launched by the AKRCC that evening was turned around due to weather, however Thursday morning, military personnel on an Air National Guard flight located the aircraft wreckage in a narrow ravine north of the West Fork of the Yentna River. The search crew was unable to land at the accident site due to the steep terrain, but they observed that survivability of the crash was unlikely.

At approximately 4:00 pm Thursday, August 10, two Denali National Park mountaineering rangers flew to the site in order to assess the likelihood of reaching the downed aircraft via a helicopter short-haul line. The rangers conducted an on-site risk assessment and determined that a short-haul mission to the wreckage was not feasible. Hazards under consideration include the 460-foot length of the short-haul line, inadequate helicopter rotor clearance due to the narrow width of the ravine, loose rock lining both walls of the ravine, and the lack of shoreline for miles above and below the rapidly flowing creek at the base of the ravine.

While the NPS rangers were assessing the site on Thursday, the Alaska State Troopers were alerted that a hunter stranded at a remote airstrip outside the southern border of the preserve had sent an InReach message to friends indicating that his pilot had not returned to pick him up.

Upon retrieving the stranded hunter, Alaska State Troopers learned that his pilot (Tucker) and his hunting partner (Blace) departed the initial airstrip on Wednesday intending to fly to a Dillinger River airstrip near the western boundary of the preserve. Tucker intended to drop off Blace, then return for the other hunter, which never happened.

Evidence collected during the investigation indicates that the aircraft did not reach the Dillinger airstrip, and both men are presumed to have died in the crash. Evidence collected includes the lack of fresh landing tracks at the Dillinger airstrip, no presence of hunters at the strip, and no communications from Blace, who was known to possess an InReach communication device.

On Friday, Aug 11, a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator flew to the wreckage with Denali National Park mountaineering rangers to conduct further investigation of the accident site, landing on a tundra plateau at the top of the ravine. The NTSB investigator flew a drone into the ravine to collect imagery of the wreckage and further assess the immediate terrain.

After an inter-agency review of the findings by officials from the NPS, the NTSB, the Alaska State Troopers, and the AKRCC, a recovery of the bodies and aircraft, if determined possible, will involve a complex and potentially high-risk ground operation. Further investigation of the site by Denali mountaineering rangers is required and will be conducted in the upcoming days as weather allows. The men’s next of kin have been notified.

“Our thoughts are with the families and loved ones of those involved as we work through this response,” said Brooke Merrell, the superintendent of Denali National Park and Preserve.


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