Mysterious report of plane crash leads to rescue of 2 trapped in wrecked pickup

Devin Kelly

Early Tuesday morning, a man flagged down a vehicle near Mile 105 of the Seward Highway, near Indian. He said he'd been in a plane crash, according to a report received by troopers.

But a search by Alaska State Troopers and the Anchorage Fire Department found no sign of plane wreckage. Then troopers went to interview the man, identified as 43-year-old Denis Straughn of Kenai, at an Anchorage hospital, where he had been taken with minor injuries.

As it turned out, Straughn was actually in a car crash -- along with two other people later discovered to be trapped in a pickup off an embankment near Mile 99 of the highway, near Bird Point, troopers said.

No one appeared to be seriously injured, but the entire episode, including the report of the plane crash, left authorities scratching their heads.

It began unfolding at 3:20 a.m. Tuesday, said Megan Peters, troopers spokeswoman, when troopers got a call from someone who had received a phone call from friends and just heard screaming.

At 3:54 a.m. troopers learned that a man had reported a plane crash after flagging down a vehicle on Seward Highway, and began to look for wreckage. Peters said.

"We're looking for a downed plane, we can't find a downed plane," Peters said.

It wasn't until the hospital interview with Straughn that troopers found out he was actually in a pickup, not an airplane, before he was found on the side of the highway, Peters said.

Straughn also "thought he had been with one other person, Harley Davidson," according to a trooper dispatch posted about the incident.

About 6:49 a.m., the Anchorage Police Department reported to troopers that a wrecked pickup had been found down a ravine near Mile 99 of the Seward Highway, six miles from where Straughn flagged down the car. A man and a woman were trapped inside and had to be extricated by firefighters, Peters said.

The driver was identified as Harley W. Davidson, 56, of Anchorage, Peters said.

An investigation revealed that Davidson had fallen asleep while driving to Soldotna, Peters said. She said Straughn was a passenger in the vehicle, and he and the woman also appeared to have been asleep when the crash occurred.

Troopers are continuing to investigate the incident. Peters said there was no evidence so far to suggest drugs or alcohol were involved.

"There are a number of things that could be at play to make someone think there was a plane crash and not a car wreck," Peters said. "Fortunately, the people in the truck weren't seriously injured."


Reach Devin Kelly at or 257-4314.