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

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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'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.


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 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!


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


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, 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,

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.


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.


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