Denali crash kills wolf biologist; pilot survives

October 16, 2009 

Wildlife biologist Gordon Haber

ERIK HILL / ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO, 2003 Buy Photo

A Denali National Park spokeswoman says the pilot of a small airplane that crashed has survived.

Spokeswoman Kris Fister said early today that 35-year-old Daniel McGregor was able to walk away from the airplane, despite having suffered significant burns.

Fister said that with the help of two campers McGregor encountered, he was able to make it to his home, where he called his family, then the Alaska State Troopers.

Fister says McGregor, who walked roughly 20 miles during his ordeal, was being taken to a Seattle burn center.

Officials have said that human remains were found in the plane wreckage, and McGregor has confirmed that the remains are those of 67-year-old wildlife biologist Gordon Haber, the only other person aboard the aircraft.

The fiery wreckage of the white and blue Cessna 185 was spotted Thursday afternoon in some trees on a mountainside near the East Fork of the Toklat River about seven miles north of the park road, Fister said.

The wreckage was spotted by an aerial search team at about 3 p.m. A search plane then landed on a gravel river bar about one-half mile below the crash site, Fister said.

An Alaska State Trooper hiked to the scene of the crash and found that the plane was substantially damaged and had burned. The trooper was able to determine there were human remains in the plane.

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board were expected to arrive today. The NTSB also will interview McGregor as part of the accident investigation, Fister said.

The plane took off at about noon Wednesday and was supposed to return by nightfall. The Park Service was notified at about midnight that the plane was overdue.

Fister said a flight plan indicated the two men from Denali Park were looking for wolf packs. Thursday's search was focused on the north side of the park because that is where wolves tend to be, she said.

Haber, an independent biologist who for decades has studied Denali's wolves, was a frequent visitor to the 6 million-acre park in south-central Alaska and well known among Alaska's conservation community.

Denali National Park has about 100 wolves and more than a dozen wolf packs, including the Toklat pack that are some of the most viewed and researched wolves in the world. Visitors to the park traveling in buses occasionally see wolves from the park road, usually members of the Toklat pack.

For years, Haber pushed for greater protections for the wolves when they venture outside park boundaries and onto state lands where they can be hunted and trapped. Two years ago he was angered when as many as 19 wolves, including four collared wolves, were killed outside the northeast boundary of the park and outside a no-trapping buffer zone.

An entry on his Web site in March said the Toklat pack remained at 11 wolves, including five to six pups, down from 14 to 17 wolves in late January.

Haber said the information was garnered from his research flights.

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