After three reconnaissance flights, officials have declared that pilot Jason Tucker, 45, from Wasilla, and passenger Nicolas Blace, 44, from Chugiak, are presumed to have lost their lives in a PA-18 Super Cub aircraft accident within the remote southwest preserve of Denali National Park and Preserve.
The incident unfolded on Wednesday, when the Alaska Air National Guard Rescue Coordination Center was alerted about an overdue aircraft in the wilderness of Denali National Park. Initial search efforts faced weather challenges, forcing a turnaround. Nevertheless, the following day, a military team on an Air National Guard flight successfully located the wreckage in a narrow ravine north of the West Fork of the Yentna River. However, the treacherous terrain prevented a safe landing, leading to a grim preliminary assessment of the crash’s survivability.
On Thursday, Denali National Park mountaineering rangers undertook a perilous journey to evaluate the feasibility of a helicopter short-haul line to reach the accident site. The rangers faced numerous hazards, including the steep ravine walls, loose rocks, and an absence of safe landing zones near the rapidly flowing creek. It was determined that a short-haul mission was not viable, adding complexity to the recovery efforts.
The Alaska State Troopers were alerted about a stranded hunter outside the preserve who had communicated that his pilot had not returned to collect him.
After the hunter was safely retrieved, it was revealed that the pilot, Jason Tucker, and his hunting partner, Nicolas Blace, were en route to a Dillinger River airstrip before the accident occurred. Tucker was supposed to drop off Blace before returning for another hunter but never completed the second leg of the journey.
The investigation yielded evidence that the aircraft did not reach the intended Dillinger airstrip. Fresh landing tracks were absent, no hunters were present at the strip, and communication from Blace, who was equipped with an InReach device, ceased. These findings led authorities to presume the loss of both Tucker and Blace in the accident.
A National Transportation Safety Board investigator arrived at the wreckage site on Friday. Accompanied by Denali National Park mountaineering rangers, the investigator used a drone operated from a tundra plateau to capture imagery of the wreckage and evaluate the immediate terrain.
An inter-agency review, involving officials from the National Park Service, NTSB, Alaska State Troopers, and AKRCC, was conducted to analyze the findings. If deemed feasible, the recovery of the bodies and the aircraft will require a complex and potentially high-risk ground operation. Denali mountaineering rangers are poised to undertake further investigation as weather conditions permit.
Brooke Merrell, the superintendent of Denali National Park and Preserve, expressed heartfelt condolences: “Our thoughts are with the families and loved ones of those involved as we work through this response.”
Photo credit: National Park Service photo of ravine.