Alaska News

Remains of pilot recovered from Alaska Range crash site

The remains of missing pilot David McRae were located and recovered Thursday morning in the Alaska Range, according to the Alaska National Guard.

Civilian searchers found McRae's aircraft southwest of Merrill Pass at an elevation of about 6,500 feet in Lake Clark National Park, said Lt. Candis Olmstead in a release.


"McRae was recovered from the scene, transported and released to the state medical examiner at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage early this afternoon," Olmstead said.

Heidi Hammond, McRae's cousin, said McRae was well respected among Alaska aviators and made friends with everyone he met.

"Everybody who knew him is going to miss him," Heidi Hammond said.

[Read more: After 3 days of searching, still no sign of missing plane or pilot]

Poor weather hampered search efforts for six days until weather cleared Thursday. The improved weather allowed the Civil Air Patrol to join in the search, and it spotted the wreckage shortly after sunrise, officials said. McRae was the only one aboard the plane.

McRae, 55, was flying fuel from Anchorage to the Port Alsworth homestead of his aunt, Bella Hammond, on Friday evening when he is believed to have deviated from his planned route through Lake Clark pass due to weather, according to investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board.

NTSB will continue to investigate the crash.

The investigation into the crash is in its preliminary stages, said Clint Johnson of NTSB. An investigator spent the past several days gathering radar and air traffic control data, as well as interviewing officials and family.

The information collected so far does not answer the question on the minds of those closest to McRae: How did the crash happen?

"We have no idea at this point," Johnson said. "That data is just a small piece of the puzzle."

Initial indicators given to NTSB by the Alaska Air National Guard indicate the recovery of the plane will be difficult, Johnson said. He was told the area of the crash site features steep terrain and an abundance of snow.

Johnson said more details will be gathered in the coming days, such as exactly where the plane crashed and its condition.

"But the reality is, depending on weather conditions, it very well could be next spring before we see the wreckage," he said.

McRae frequently flew to the homestead, which Bella Hammond and her late husband, Gov. Jay Hammond, built and shared for decades. Heidi Hammond estimated he made the trip more than once a month.

He also flew all around the state and once spent a summer flying around Denali, Heidi Hammond said. Another typical trip involved flying from Alaska to Washington, she said.

"He had a lot of experience," she said.

Outside of his life of aviation, McRae spent many years commercial fishing in Bristol Bay. He spent his free time working on his aircraft and other projects, Heidi said.

"He could do anything. Everyone thought the world of him."