An Alaska Air National Guard helicopter crew landed Monday in the vicinity of two hikers stranded on a glacier near Seward since Friday, in hopes of rescuing them during a break in poor weather that grounded weekend search flights.
Christopher Hanna, 45, and Jennifer Neyman, 36, were flown onto Harding Icefield in the area of Kenai Fjords National Park for a day hike Friday before poor conditions prevented the plane that dropped them off from returning, prompting them to call for a rescue.
"The 210th Rescue Squadron has landed their HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter at the base of Bear Glacier" as of 12:30 p.m. Monday, Staff Sgt. Edward ?Eagerton wrote. "They are currently waiting for the weather to clear in order to fly up to the stranded individuals' location."
Early Monday, Eagerton didn't have word on any specific windows in the weather forecast that would help searchers reach the scene.
"It's all tentative," Eagerton said. "They're hoping for conditions to improve so they can fly up the glacier."
But Eagerton reported shortly before 6 p.m. that a helicopter had been able to insert a ground team north of the stranded hikers. He did not know how close the team was able to get to their location.
The rescuers are having a difficult time moving forward, as winds of about 34 miles per hour are blowing through the area, Eagerton said.
"They're having a difficult time, but they're professionals," he said.
A Monday dispatch from Alaska State Troopers said Hanna and Neyman, from Soldotna and Wrangell respectively, called Saturday to report that they were stranded on Bear Glacier.
"Hanna and Neyman were able to communicate via cell phones and (an InReach satellite text-messaging device) with a friend," troopers wrote. "They advised their tent had failed, the snow was building and they were running low on supplies."
Eagerton said rescuers had a location on Monday for Hanna and Neyman, who had reported at one point that they were "digging in to a snow cave."
"They do know where they're at, because the InReach did send some coordinates," Eagerton said.
Troopers and the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group had originally planned to fly in, Eagerton said, but they called the Guard for help. Neither Guard nor trooper aircraft was able to respond Saturday night or Sunday amid continuing harsh weather. Aircrews remained unable to reach the location throughout Monday.
The hikers remained in contact with rescue authorities throughout the weekend, as plans for a ground effort were scrapped due to the delay involved in reaching their location at the 4,300-foot level of the glacier.
"(AMRG) said it would take three days to get to them because it was 16 miles," Eagerton said.
The Guard urges people on almost any backcountry trip in Alaska to bring an inReach or a similar device, due to their potentially lifesaving capabilities in a search and rescue situation.
"It makes a big difference that people go out prepared for that kind of thing," Eagerton said. "It's a difference of people being able to fly right to you, as opposed to doing a search from the air."