Seven people remain stranded on a glacier near Talkeetna, nearly 48 hours after their flightseeing plane landed Tuesday night due to poor weather and has been grounded ever since.
According to a statement from Denali National Park and Preserve spokesperson Maureen McLaughlin, Talkeetna Air Taxi owner John Roderick alerted park officials Wednesday morning that pilot John Nealon had been forced to set down his de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver with six passengers on board. Company officials told Channel 2 Wednesday that the flight had taken off from Talkeetna at about 4:45 p.m. Tuesday and landed after about 15 minutes of flight.
“Into the night, snowfall and cloud cover continued to build, so the seven of them slept in the (plane), which was supplied with basic emergency gear including sleeping bags, food, a stove, and a satellite phone,” McLaughlin wrote.
Continuing poor conditions, including clouds and intermittent snowfall, prevented both a Talkeetna Air Taxi plane and a Park Service helicopter from reaching the site Wednesday, causing the plane and its occupants to spend a second night on the glacier.
Roderick told Channel 2 that the Beaver’s occupants were doing well earlier Thursday.
“We just talked to them this morning and they’re all fine,” Roderick said.
A ground effort to reach the plane began Thursday morning, with a helicopter flying four Park Service rangers flown to Ruth Gorge, about three and a half miles from the Beaver’s landing point.
South District Ranger John Leonard says conditions in the area include both dense cloud cover and precipitation.
“We've had a few days of rather poor weather,” Leonard said. “It's been raining pretty hard off and on in Talkeetna, the clouds have been down pretty low.”
Roderick echoed that view of the weather, saying it was a major factor in the plane’s grounding stretching into a third day.
“It’s unusual,” Roderick said. “It just happens to be where the temperature and dew point meet just right.”
Once the rangers reach the plane, the Park Service plans for them to remain with the occupants until weather improves -- at which point both groups of people will be flown back to Talkeetna.
“Once the weather clears, the plane should be able to take off without any problems,” Leonard said. “There will be some fresh snow up there that they will have to break in a runway to take off.”
In the Park Service statement Thursday, Leonard praised Talkeetna Air Taxi’s actions in the incident for not risking the lives of the company’s passengers.
“Fortunately for all involved, this is not an emergency situation thanks to the sound judgement of the pilot and the emergency preparedness of the air service. Instead of pushing through bad weather, Nealon made the difficult decision to land and face a night or two of discomfort. Gratefully, today we are conducting a re-supply mission instead of responding to an accident.”
Channel 2's Adam Pinsker contributed information to this story.
Contact Chris Klint