Wolf Biologist Killed In Plane Crash in Denali National Park, Pilot Survived

Noted wolf biologist Gordon Haber was killed in this plane crash. NPS photos.

A noted Alaskan wolf biologist has been killed in a plane crash in a remote area of Denali National Park and Preserve. The pilot, though he suffered burns, was able to walk out and alert authorities.

Dr. Gordon Haber and pilot Dan McGregor had left Wednesday for a flight over the northern end of the park to monitor wolf packs. When the Cessna 185 didn't return on schedule that evening, authorities were notified and an aerial search was mounted by the National Park Service and Alaska State Troopers.

Wreckage of the single-engine plane was spotted from the air Thursday afternoon on a steep slope west of the East Fork of the Toklat River, approximately seven miles north of the Denali Park Road, park officials said. "A search plane was able to land later in the afternoon on the river bar approximately one-half mile below the crash site, and an Alaska State Trooper hiked to the scene to investigate. The aircraft was substantially damaged by the impact and the post crash fire, but the trooper was able to determine the presence of human remains before increasing darkness prevented his further investigation," they said.

The 35-year-old McGregor told authorities that after the crash he walked to the Denali Park Road where he found two campers at the Igloo Creek Campground who drove him to his home, according to a park release. Once home, the pilot called his family to let them know he was OK, and the authorities, the release said.

The National Park Service was notified of his situation about 10:30 p.m. Thursday.

"McGregor was alert and in good spirits, talking to friends and family via cell phone while being treated and waiting for the air ambulance to arrive from Fairbanks," a park release said. "It is estimated that he walked approximately 20 miles during his ordeal. He will be interviewed later by National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) personnel as part of the accident investigation. McGregor has confirmed that remains found at the crash site are those of Gordon Haber. Rangers are stationed at the remote crash site overnight, in order to secure the scene prior to arrival of NTSB investigators on Friday."

Dr. Haber, 67, who has studied Denali's wolves since 1966, long had been critical of Alaska's wolf management plans, particularly their hunting and trapping regulations, according to John Quinley, the Park Service's assistant regional director for communications in Alaska.

“He has been an advocate for stronger protection of wolves, particularly on the northern and eastern boundaries of Denali, which in various configurations have been open to trapping in recent years, outside the park’s boundary," the Park Service spokesman said Thursday afternoon. "His concern was, in part, that those wolves on the eastern end, some of the packs, have been studied going way way back, back to when (Adolph) Murie was working in Denali, and he saw a danger if those long-studied packs were eliminated by trapping or hunting that that’s a significant loss for the park and park visitors.

"He also saw that some of those eastern wolves, they’re protected in the park and they wander around particularly close to people at various times of years and they wander outside the park, in the spring, and if they wander close to people they wind up dead, in traps particularly," said Mr. Quinley.

Comments

I never met Gordon, but always respected his commitment to the Alaskan wolf population. May his memory be a blessing.

A possible cause for this crash could be an indicated design flaw well known to both the FAA and NTSB for decades.
After a three year debacle with the FAA the NTSB closed their safety recommendation and walked away. Pilots and passengers continue to die or become injured possibly due to undetectable water in the fuel tanks the pilot cannot positively detect during the pre-flight of the aircraft.

Data Source: NTSB Recommendations to FAA and FAA Responses
Report No: A-83-6
Subject:
Letter Date:01/13/1986
Status: CLOSED UNACCEPTABLE ACTION
Engine stoppage because of water in the fuel occurred most often
during the takeoff and initial climb phase of flight, and frequently bladder-type fuel cells such as Cessna Models C-180, C-182, C-185, C-206, and C-207.

Denali's wolves have lost the person who understood them most, their best and strongest advocate. I implore the Park Service to learn from what Gordon showed us, and manage Denali's wolves as the packs/family structures that they are, and not just as a population. The Park should immediately work with the state to create the buffers especially in the Stampede trail areas to protect these packs that hundreds of thousands of tourists come to the park to see.

it appalls me that people who know nothing about something offer speculation and infere that the faa is negligent in regards to aircraft safety. i have flown the 64juliet, the aircfaft that crashed, many times over 25years and can attest that there was no fuel problem. the faa has done a fantastic job of correcting any known or proveable problems with aircraft. there are many many many, airworthiness directives for all aircraft that are required to be complied with by aircraft owners. these directives are to fix any problems which have manifested themselves in an aircraft. these problems are found by pilots, the faa, the manufacturers and the ntsb through accident investigation. all these parties work together for one common goal. aircraft safety. dan was a very good pilot and very experienced in alaska flying. alaska is a dangerous flying environment and even the best pilots can get in trouble. the pilots of alaska know the dangers and risks and gladly assume them for the privelege of flying the bush in one of the most beutiful and rugged environments. flying the bush is a lifestyle and is inherently dangerous. if we made all pusuits perfectly safe, we would lose the most important parts of life.

I stayed up late here in SE Alaska to wait for good news after the crashed plane was spotted on the side of a mountain in Denali and went to bed tearful after learning that Dr. Haber had died. I was relieved to find this morning that the pilot, Dan, survived and wish him well. His is a fantastic story of survival as he had to walk many miles to get help and now has his physical work cut out for him recovering from his burns. I was honored to know of Dr. Haber's work through my own passion for wolves in Alaska. Peace to all of the families, friends, co-workers of these brave men.

It is a sad day for the Park, but Gordon died doing what he loved best. We should all be so lucky. To those of you who care about his mission, carry on in his place. We hope to be there soon to do the same.

My thoughts and prayers are with Gordon's friends and families. Having talked to him a few times I realize that much of what he says makes sense. And having driven the park road over the last few years wolves are now seen and enjoyed with great regularity. I have met many who want to see a wolf more than the bear or the mountain. May that opportunity continue! Thanks for your efforts on the behalf of wolves and a sensible ecology Gordie! Bo and Sharon--hello from someone who worked with you many years ago in Denali.

I met Gordon Haber briefly at a wolf conference and was fascinated by his love and enthusiasm for the wolves.
As the editor of the German Wolf Magazin I have written a few articles about him and admired his work.
We all from the wolf communities worldwide will miss him a lot.

I am appalled at Priscilla Feral's comments. There are two sides to Predator Control. Those of us that understand that have no desire to have anyone on the FOA side die like this. Priscilla your hateful about those who disagree with your views are to be expected. Why not just grieve a lost peer and stop attempting to express the views of hunters and trappers; which you could not possibly know or understand?

THANK YOU FOR YOUR KIND WORD I AM GORDONS GOD DAUGHTER AND HIS NIECE, WE ARE TORN APART BUT WE ARE ALL TOGEATHER, HIS SISTER MY MOM AND MY GRANDMA HIS MOM IS HAVEING A HARD TIME. WE ARE A CLOSE FAMILY WE LOST SOMEONE SO SPECIAL TO US, THANK YOU FOR YOUR KIND WORDS.
CHERYL A. RICHARDSON STUART, FLORIDA

Cheryl,
Please email me. I am a close friend of Gordon and have been trying to reach you.

Again, it sounds as though someone who doesn't know what the conditions are like on the north side of Denali is taking something that THEY hear and applying it to anything that THEY suppose is like in nature. Tight 360° turns over a wolf pack with a biologist trying to see from a 185 on the lee-side of a mountain range is much more likely the cause than any mechanical malfunction. Period!

Tight 360 degree turns at slow airspeeds and low altitudes are inherently hazardous maneuvers. The stall speed of the aircraft increases with the steep angle of the turn. The passage of the plane sets up a trail of disturbed air, so the the turning aircraft may suddenly encounter its own wake turbulence. The wing on the inside of the turn is traveling slower than the outside wing, so when when a stall takes place there is a tendency for the plane to flip. With enough altitude the pilot can normally recover from the stall. When flying close to the ground, however, there may not be room for a safe recovery. In aerial wildlife tracking there should be a clear understanding that the pilot is not expected to search for wildlife. His/her role is to safely fly the aircraft and follow the directions of the observer(s) only when the directions can be carried within the envelop of safety. There are other possible causes for the accident, including fuel contamination, engine problems, local turbulence, etc. Mt. McKinley and its close sister mountains often generate their own weather conditions that can extend outward for many miles. The 185 is an excellent airplane. Personally, however, I would pick a PA 18 Super Cub for visual tracking and low level observation of wildlife.

Bane, why the aircraft pick...the 185 over the PA 18 Super Cub. Does the Super Cub have a rear passenger seat...in back of the pilots seat? Do you fly personally?

I don't know why Bane isn't answering, but know that he does fly, has flown 185s and Super Cubs. Super Cubs are two seaters, a front and a back seat. The 185 is a four seater, two up and two behind. The 185 is a faster plane, and the Super Cub can fly much slower. As Ray says, both are excellent planes, highly favored in Alaska.

Anonymous,

The Super Cub is well suited for low level and slow speed observation for a number of reasons. It has a high lift wing with a lower stall speed allowing it to fly at slower speeds. It has a tandem seating arrangement with the passenger directly behind the pilot. There is lots of window space on both sides of the fuselage allowing easy viewing when banking in either direction. Generally, the plane is a bit easier to recover from a stall. Of course, the 185 will carry more passengers and has a longer range. As d-2 says, I have flown both the 185 and PA-18 (SCub) in wildlife tracking and other low level operations. Both are excellent aircraft.

Ray Bane, many thanks for the aeronautical insights on both aircrafts. I figured that the PA 18 (Super Cub) would be excellent plane for wildlife photography. Your wildlife experiences in Alaska speaks well for your credentials. One more question: What kind of pilot certification do you need to land on Mt. Denali?

Anonymous, I suggest contacting park management to get particular information as to requirements or restrictions related to landing within park boundaries. However, if you are interested in accessing the mountain by air I strongly recommend doing it with a fully rated pilot who has extensive experience and a long history of safely operating on the mountain. Mountain flying is a whole different level of bush flying. Mountains, particularly Mt. McKinley, eat airplanes. Thin air, erratic air currents, clear air turbulence, hidden obstacles, sloping landing surfaces, sudden weather changes, etc. can turn what seems like a relatively simple landing into a disaster.

Ray Bane, thanks for all the in put regarding flight into Mt. McKinley...must be awesome to see from the air.

I am so sorry for the loss of Dr. Gordon Haber and so thankful for the life of pilot Dan McGregor! This is a tragedy on many levels. I am a wolf researcher and have relied on Gordon's work and insights throughout my career...he was very important in Alaska wildlife management and as a spokesman for wolves and other wildlife...he will be missed!!!! We are always aware of the inherant dangers in the type of work these biologists do from the air...especially in winter...and this just shows that we should always be grateful for the risks they take each time they fly because these risks provide all of us with a greater understanding of places like Denali or Yellowstone and the wolves and other species that reside there.

Besides being a great biologist, Gordon was a great man...willing to share ideas and expertise, as well as stories and conversations about wolves...he will be missed by colleagues, friends, and wolves. Our thoughts are with his family...goodbye, my friend!

Hi Ray,
Where are you? Sorry to read about Gordon Haber. He was just starting his wolf studies, I think, when we moved to Fairbanks in '65. I remember the exciting flights Jim and I had looking for wolves on Winter Sundays. So many things have to go right for a successful flight.
Mary Ann

I'm doing research on animal intelligence, and Gordon Haber came up in one of my sources for his work with wolves. I have to say, I'm impressed with this man. I'm an Environmental Science major on the Biology track at the University of Central Arkansas, but this paper is for a writing class. I thought I would do a little extra research into Gordon Haber though. I truly believe that this was a great loss, and some of the data collected about his wolves since he died is saddening. But I want to say that his findings will go on, his legacy will continue. Through those who knew him and through those who repeat what they learned from him. I don't know if my paper will get a good grade, but life isn't about grades, it is about experiences and effort, and on those grounds I dedicate my paper, as well as future papers in which I will undoubtedly look to him for incite, to Gordon Haber. Gone but not forgotten. Never forgotten.