Denali park rangers prepare for lengthy recovery of crashed plane

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TALKEETNA, Alaska (KTUU) — Denali National Park Rangers are hoping weather will clear enough on Thursday to give them a chance to reach the wreckage of a flightseeing plane that crashed high up on the mountains.

This photo from the National Park Service shows the site of a plane crash into the side of a mountain near the top of Thunder Mountain in the Alaska Range, near Denali.

Efforts to recover the bodies of the five people on board the aircraft have been put on hold for the last few days due to weather. The area near the crash has even received some fresh snowfall in the last few days.

Head ranger and incident commander Tucker Chenoweth told reporters Wednesday that the recovery process will likely take a while. Before the bodies can be removed from the aircraft, they need to make sure the crash site is safe and secure enough for them to spend a few hours on scene.

“The extrication process will be long so what we’re looking for is an area where we can work and put personnel and be there for an extended amount of time,” Chenoweth said. “That includes the current weather pattern, the stability of the aircraft on the slope and the ability for us to get to the location through technical terrain.”

The plane is located on a hanging glacier near Thunder Mountain, sitting in a very precarious position. When asked if there was any possibility the wreckage could slide further down the mountain, Chenoweth said, “based on the pictures, I would say so.”

Chenoweth says the Rangers need a clear weather window of at least five hours to be able to reach the crash site and begin the recovery process, which will likely require more than one day.

Once the bodies are recovered, crews will attempt to recover the wreckage so it can be examined by the National Transportation Safety Board to determine the cause of the crash. But recovering the wreckage will be difficult and maybe even impossible.

“The wreckage was highly fragmented,” said Shaun Williams, one of two NTSB investigators on scene in Talkeetna. “The right wing is separated from the aircraft and estimated to be a few hundred feet below the main crash site.”

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