Wreckage from fatal plane crash in Denali National Park can’t safely be recovered, officials say

The National Park Service said Monday that rangers are unable to recover the wreckage of a plane that crashed in a remote area of Denali National Park earlier this month due to the risks posed by the steep ravine where the plane went down.

The Piper PA-18 Super Cub crashed north of the West Fork of the Yentna River on Aug. 9, killing pilot Jason Tucker, 45, from Wasilla, and passenger Nicolas Blace, 44, of Chugiak, National Park Service officials have said. Tucker was flying Blace from one remote airstrip to another when the crash occurred, the agency said. The wreckage was found the morning after the plane was reported overdue.

The wreckage still contains the bodies of the pilot and passenger. Mountaineering rangers flew to the crash site five times during the last week but encountered overhead rockfall when they attempted to lower technical ropes in gullies, the Park Service said Monday. Rangers also worked with helicopter pilots to see if they could hook into the wreckage “with a mechanical grabber on the end of a 450-foot-long line,” but decided that was also too risky, the agency said.

It’s possible the wreckage could be recovered if water levels drop or if rangers can reach the area on foot during winter conditions, officials say.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash. An investigator used a drone to photograph the crash site, said Clint Johnson, the agency’s Alaska chief.

Johnson said he supported the decision to leave the wreckage in place, though it will complicate the investigation.

“There’s a lot of other things we can look at that we will continue to look at: weather reports, pilot reports in that area, we’re trying to see if there was any kind of electronic tracking system that was being used there,” he said.

A preliminary report on the crash is expected to be released by the end of the month.