NTSB releases initial report on deadly Alaska Range crash

The wreckage of a de Havilland Beaver is seen near the summit of Thunder Mountain, about 14 miles southwest of the Denali summit. (Photo courtesy National Park Service)

The National Transportation Safety Board issued a preliminary report on the flightseeing crash that killed five people earlier this month.

Listen now

On the evening of Aug. 4, a DeHaviland Beaver operated by K2 Aviation was on a one-hour flightseeing tour when it crashed into a steep ridge southwest of Denali known as Thunder Mountain.

The pilot, later identified as Craig Layson, reached K2’s Talkeetna offices by satellite phone a few minutes after the crash.

Layson told ground personnel that the plane had impacted a mountain, and the people on board needed rescue.

The first call only lasted a couple of minutes before the signal was lost. After multiple further attempts, contact was re-established.

Layson said at that time that he was trapped in the wreckage of the plane, and there were two possible fatalities on board.

Later that evening, the National Park Service launched a search-and-rescue helicopter, but poor weather conditions prevented rangers from reaching the crash site.

Park Service and military aircraft continued to attempt to spot the downed plane for the next 36 hours.

On the morning of Aug 6, Denali National Park mountaineering ranger Chris Erickson was able to reach the crash site while suspended from a rescue helicopter.

Erickson confirmed that four of the five people on board were deceased, but could not see the plane’s fifth occupant.

With the weather closing in, Erickson had only about 5 minutes to survey the wreckage.

Four days later, a longer short-haul mission was launched, and rangers were able to locate the fifth and final occupant of the plane. All four passengers were Polish citizens. Their names have not been released.

NTSB investigator David Williams traveled to the accident scene, and writes that the airplane broke into multiple pieces after colliding with the ridge.

In a statement last week, National Park Service personnel stated that conditions on Thunder Mountain are too dangerous to attempt to recover the aircraft and its occupants.