Weather, altitude, stability affect recovery effort for plane crashed in Denali National Park

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Recovery of the plane that crashed into a mountain in Denali National Park Saturday may not be possible for another couple of days, at least, say some of the agencies involved. The National Park Service and National Transportation Safety Board are still working up their plan of action, which is also dependent on weather, for the recovery of the plane, and those killed in the crash.

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.

The plane, piloted by Craig Layson flying for K2 Aviation, also had four Polish passengers on board when it crashed within Denali National Park. Officials say that all on board are presumed to have died in the crash. Four were confirmed dead by a National Park Mountaineering Ranger who was hauled to the scene by helicopter. The ranger was unable to see the fifth person in the plane due to his short time at the plane and limited access, but presumes that person was in the plane as well.

[RELATED: Park ranger describes brief time at crash site, as weather conditions prevent recovery of victims]

Katherine Belcher, spokesperson for the National Parks Service, said the agency is still in the planning process Tuesday, meeting throughout the day to determine the next course of action for recovering the bodies of those who died.

Belcher said there's no plan to approach the plane Tuesday, due to poor weather conditions, and that action taken by NPS would likely need to wait until Thursday or Friday, as weather permits.

Clint Johnson, Chief of the National Transportation Safety Board's Alaska district, told KTUU that this investigation is unusual.

"Our office is very used to dealing in very remote, challenging areas, however, this accident, and where the wreckage came to rest, is even over our heads," Johnson told Channel 2 Tuesday afternoon.

"This one is a unique situation because the wreckage is at altitude, and a very precarious location, so we're working right now very closely with the National Park Service, to see if we can gain access to the accident site," Johnson said. "I think that's unlikely, given the pictures that we saw yesterday of the airplane, that we probably won't be launching investigators to the actual site."

Johnson said that two separate recovery missions would likely be planned: one for the bodies trapped on the plane, and one for the plane itself.

While the Park Service will spearhead the main recovery effort of getting the bodies out of the downed plane, NTSB is focused on retrieval of the plane, which will take place after the bodies are recovered.

If recovering the bodies proves too difficult or impossible, Johnson said the NTSB would likely then try to recover both the plane and those on board in one trip. Johnson said two NTSB investigators were planning on flying to Talkeetna Wednesday to begin a preliminary investigation. The ultimate recovery of the aircraft would be in cooperation with K2 Aviation's insurance provider, Johnson said.

While Layson has been named by officials, the four Polish nationals have not. Belcher said that the NPS is working with the Polish consulate in Los Angeles to notify family members of the deaths first.

Updated at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday: The National Park Service says the names of the four tourists on board will not be released at the request of the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Los Angeles.



 
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