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'The forgotten rescue:' recounting a Knik Glacier crash

Craig MedredAlaska Dispatch

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When Wasilla pilot Don Erbey set out for some Alaskan flightseeing on Aug. 8, 2010, conditions were ideal for a trip between the Matanuska and Pioneer peaks, over the Knik Glacier. With Erbey, in a Piper Cherokee six-seater borrowed from Erbey's father, was the Lantz family: father Fred, mother Mary Jan, and their two twenty-something sons Patrick and David. They were visiting Alaska from Galveston, Texas.

Once the plane reached around 8,000 feet elevation and was cruising over the Knik Valley, a bank of clouds moved in an engulfed the plane.

"I've been up here 33 years," Don said, "and I've never seen any weather move in so fast."

Lost in the clouds, Erbey focused on maintaining altitude and made an attempt to turn around above the broad expanse of the glacier below. In the middle of the turn, the passengers of the plane found themselves skipping across the surface of the glacier and spinning to a stop, the engine torn from its mounts.

The landing was so gentle, the emergency transmitter hadn't even gone off. Erbey switched it on around 1 p.m., shortly after the crash. Rescue teams departed from Elmendorf AFB while the plane's passengers settled in, with no emergency kit, and waited for recovery. That rescue would become more of an ordeal than anybody -- rescuers included -- could have anticipated.

Read the first of Craig Medred's three-part series -- "The Forgotten Rescue."