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Aviation

Clouds obscure site of plane crash wreckage near Denali for another day

The wreckage of the K2 Aviation plane is near the summit of Thunder Mountain on the north side of the ridge, roughly 14 miles southwest of the summit of Denali. (NPS photo)

Five days after a flightseeing plane crashed high in the Alaska Range near Denali, stubborn clouds once again stymied efforts to reach the wreckage and begin recovery efforts.

A two-person flight crew in a National Park Service high-altitude helicopter couldn't even catch a glimpse of the K2 Aviation plane Thursday, agency spokeswoman Katherine Belcher said.

"It is completely shrouded in clouds in that one spot," Belcher said Thursday afternoon. "Unfortunately the site was never visible."

The recovery mission is probably suspended until the next anticipated weather window Friday morning, she said.

Ranger Tucker Chenoweth and pilot Andy Hermansky spent five hours hoping for an opening, Belcher said. They stayed in the air as much as they could.

"It is so clear on the Kahiltna (Glacier). It's very clear up there in other areas," she said. "But Thunder Peak is just shrouded. It will not budge."

The de Havilland Beaver is perched on a hanging glacier on the north side of a 10,500-foot ridge about 14 miles from the summit of Denali.

Bad weather persisted for days after the crash, allowing just a 5-minute window for a mountaineering ranger who dropped to the wreckage by rope Monday to confirm that nobody aboard survived.

Five people — a pilot from Michigan and four passengers from Poland — were aboard when the flightseeing plane crashed Saturday on a remote mountain deep in the Alaska Range. It was the deadliest accident in recent history for an air taxi flying into Denali National Park and Preserve.

The K2 Aviation Beaver that crashed at Thunder Mountain on Aug. 4, 2018. (Photo by Merrick Peirce / 2014)

There are a number of scenarios for recovery methods, Belcher said. It's not clear if the bodies will be removed before the wreckage is taken off the mountain.

Incident commanders first need to get a closer look at the site, she said. "Has there been new snow? Is it shifting? We can't do anything until we stabilize the aircraft."

The park service has completed plane recoveries in Denali at 6,000 feet but "never at close to 11,000," Belcher said.

Pilot Craig Layson made two brief satellite phone calls to the K2 office reporting the crash and injuries before communications ended.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators who arrived in Talkeetna Wednesday were looking into the calls, which weren't recorded.

The investigators said they spent their first day in town looking at photographs of the crash, speaking with families of the victims and interviewing employees at K2 Aviation.

Investigators won't land at the site, officials say, but Belcher said the park service was hoping to fly them over the wreckage sometime Thursday.

Photographs indicate the wreckage is highly fragmented, with the right wing a few hundred feet below the main crash site, investigators said Wednesday. The main cabin behind the aircraft's wing appeared to be fractured.

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