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Alaska News

Everyone safe after helicopter accident at Denali National Park glacier, officials say

  • Author: Anchorage Daily News
  • Updated: February 27
  • Published February 21

The Ruth Gorge in Denali National Park and Preserve. The Sheldon Chalet and Don Sheldon Mountain House sit on a rocky outcropping above the Ruth Glacier near the Ruth Gorge. The National Park Service said that a helicopter taking off from the chalet on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020, was involved in an accident on Ruth Glacier. (iStock / Getty Images)

All people on board were deemed safe after a helicopter accident occurred Thursday afternoon on a glacier at Denali National Park and Preserve.

Neither the two passengers nor the pilot were injured in the accident on Ruth Glacier, the National Park Service and flight service officials said. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the accident, and an NTSB official said one person reportedly sustained a minor injury.

On Thursday afternoon, the Robinson R44 helicopter operated by Talkeetna Air Taxi took off from the Sheldon Chalet, the park service said in a statement Friday. The chalet is a small luxury hotel located on a private inholding within Denali National Park. The park service said the accident occurred on the glacier, near the chalet, shortly after takeoff.

A statement from Talkeetna Air Taxi on Saturday said the helicopter was leaving from the Mountain House LLC property, and shortly after takeoff, the helicopter “contacted the glacial surface of the runway area, settling in deep snow.”

Mountain House LLC operates the Sheldon Chalet, the park service said.

Robert Sheldon, owner of Mountain House LLC, said that based on what he knew from witnesses at the site, the helicopter "had an unplanned landing,” but it was not a crash.

“There was no loss of life, and everyone walked away, and the helicopter simply ended up on its side,” Sheldon said.

Sheldon said that the two passengers were Talkeetna Air Taxi passengers and that “Sheldon Chalet is not involved in this in any way.”

Chalet staff who saw the accident occur activated an emergency transponder, the park service said in its Friday statement, and Denali National Park personnel were notified of the incident within about 20 minutes of takeoff. The request for help was canceled after chalet staff confirmed everyone on board was OK, the park service said Friday.

Clint Johnson, NTSB Alaska chief, said that the helicopter was departing from the chalet in an attempt to return to Talkeetna and that one passenger reported a minor injury. The pilot and passengers arrived in Talkeetna on Thursday evening, Talkeetna Air Taxi said.

The 2,000-square-foot Sheldon Chalet opened in February 2018. It sits a short distance from the smaller Don Sheldon Mountain House, which was built in 1966 by its namesake, a legendary glacier pilot. Both structures lie on a rocky outcropping above the Ruth Glacier, which the park service described as a popular location in the Alaska Range “due to the presence of air-taxi landing areas and its proximity to many prominent climbing peaks.”

Johnson, with the NTSB, said that given the amount of damage to the helicopter, the agency is classifying it as an accident.

“There was substantial damage to the aircraft and that classifies an accident,” Johnson said. “So this is an accident. No doubt about that.”

The damaged helicopter will be removed from the area next week if weather permits, the park service said Friday, adding that “there was no significant impact to natural resources reported.”

The site of the Don Sheldon Mountain House, photographed in 2010. The Sheldon Chalet was later built nearby and opened in 2018. The National Park Service said a helicopter taking off from the chalet on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020, was involved in an accident on Ruth Glacier. (NPS photo)
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