Alaska News

2 found dead in snowbound vehicle in Interior Alaska mountain pass

Update, Jan. 9: Alaska State Troopers identified two adults who were found dead in a vehicle at Eagle Summit as 59-year-old John Carroll and 55-year-old Tonya Carroll, both from Circle.  

Original story:

Alaska State Troopers said two people were found dead in their vehicle on the Steese Highway in Interior Alaska late Wednesday after howling winds created snowdrifts that made travel all but impossible.

Troopers in an update Friday afternoon said they recovered the bodies of the two adults from the vehicle at Eagle Summit on the highway with the help of state transportation crews. A tow truck removed the vehicle, they said.

A 13-mile section of the highway around the summit remained closed as of Friday afternoon.

Troopers said they received a report just before 6 p.m. Wednesday that the two had not arrived in Circle after departing Fairbanks earlier in the day. Someone had spotted the vehicle stuck in the snow earlier in the day, but couldn’t stop to check on the occupants “due to extreme weather conditions in the area,” according to the update from troopers spokesman Austin McDaniel.

Circle is located along the Yukon River at one end of the 150-mile highway that starts in Fairbanks. About 75 people live there.


Troopers and crew members at the DOT Montana Creek station reached the vehicle around 7 p.m. Wednesday using a loader with a snowblower attachment to cut through massive drifts, according to Danielle Tessen, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation.

“Winds were 60 mph,” she said, reading off notes from crew logs for the incident. “Drifts were up to 10 feet deep.”

Amid conditions described as a whiteout blizzard, the trooper broke a window on the vehicle and “located the missing adults, both deceased, inside the vehicle,” according to McDaniel’s update. “The extreme weather conditions prevented the Trooper from safely recovering the bodies, so the vehicle was secured until they could safely be recovered.”

State officials said DOT crews assisted two other pickups that had run out of fuel or become stuck on the highway on Wednesday.

On Friday, both bodies and the vehicle removed from the summit were taken back to Fairbanks for positive identification and further investigation, troopers said. They will both be sent to the State Medical Examiner Office for autopsy.

No foul play is suspected at this time, they said.

Troopers said the weather improved enough to allow for the recovery to proceed Friday. But for several days this week, severe weather buffeted the summit.

The National Weather Service last Sunday issued a special weather statement cautioning of high winds through Thursday for a broad area of the Interior, including the Eagle Summit area. The forecast called for winds from 25 to 35 mph, gusting to 45 mph, expected to “result in areas of blowing and drifting snow creating dangerous travel conditions along the Dalton, Steese and Elliott highways due to low visibility and drifting snow.”

Conditions worsened sharply by Wednesday morning, Tessen said. Just before 8 a.m., the Alaska 511 road conditions website described that section as “very difficult” and the state closed that section at 11:15 a.m.

As of Saturday morning, driving conditions on the section of road at Eagle Summit were described as “very difficult” with drifting snow, plowed snow and packed snow, and slippery road surfaces. Crews were using snow removal equipment, and DOT recommended that drivers use caution and be prepared for winter conditions, according to Alaska 511.

Zaz Hollander

Zaz Hollander is a veteran journalist based in the Mat-Su and is currently an ADN local news editor and reporter. She covers breaking news, the Mat-Su region, aviation and general assignments. Contact her at