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.