Alaska pilot and hunter identified in deadly Denali crash

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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.

17 COMMENTS

  1. Rest in peace. May your loved ones’ grief take as long as it takes, but that they find peace in memories beyond this finality.

  2. Like the Titanic, mark the spot as a Grave. It is not worth risking Rescuer’s lives to retrieve bodies. Pilots ask a lot from the non flying public from their blinking tower lights all night long, to taking over our lakes, to practicing Stalls over our neighborhoods. Most flight accidents are Pilot Error, most Fatal accidents are Pilot Error. Rescuers are Too Valuable to be put at risk because of Pilot Error.

  3. It’s hard to discern, but is that the plane wreckage at the very bottom of the revine, next to the canyon river?

  4. Airplanes need space to allow maximum airflow around the wings. When you fly into a canyon you are entering an area of UNKNOWN wind / air conditions with no Allowance to make Corrections. I don’t think the plane fell from the sky into the ravine / Canyon. The Alaskan Piolet Culture is rooted in tales of piolets Pushing The Limits. I believe it is the Greatest cause of Piolet Error. If you are gonna fly in a small plane, pick a Piolet who sounds Old and Boring. Especially one who does the Required Walk Around Checks. This is the equivalent of doing a walk around of your car checking, all the mirrors and lights. Most people don’t do this, most piolets don’t either. If a Piolet does the Required Walk Around they will find any sticking or frayed cables, which move the wing flaps, that where Wearing Out from the Last Flight.Good piolets don’t overload the plane. Good piolets don’t fly in hazardous conditions. A bad Piolet can kill you and your family.

    • I googled the names and came up with two men of early 40s , the pilot seems experienced enough and the hunting passenger appeared an experienced military man. But 40s still young, the men needing the humility to listen to older adults over 65 with wisdom. Millennials still have too much to learn even at 40.

    • Wow… Sarge, your comment is about as worthy as your spelling. I know a LOT of pilots, even a few who have had accidents. ALL of them preflight inspect their aircraft – every flight. By the time they are licensed to fly passengers commercially – especially in Alaska – they have lots of experience to fly safely. I have 38 years experience working with pilots – they are a great, friendly, competent, bunch of professionals. Stuff happens – flying inherently involves some level of risk – but these folks take great pains to minimize it. I’ve been deposed by the NTSB as a witness to the weather conditions regarding a fatality, a serious business it is.
      Each and every flying accident is a great tragedy, and my heart goes out to the families who are left behind. This is not the time to criticize a whole class of people, especially from a position of such obvious ignorance.

    • A preflight is required to be done before the first flight of the day. All the pilots I know, myself included, always do a preflight. Besides being required, it’s just common sense.

      • Howdy Ak. The bulk of my comment deals with Piolet Error, The walk around was just part of one sentence. This is my point—-Alaska piolets have a collective spoken and unspoken S wag about flying up to the edge. This is common to all Alaskans—Proud to live in a challenging place. When “The Swag comes aboard a small aircraft, the percentage chance of an accident goes up.” Passengers need to know this. If your Piolet tells stories of close calls, it would be best for you not to fly with him. From what I’ve gather on the web, about 75 to 85% of Alaska crashes are due to Pilot Error.. SWAG. is the Elephant in the flying community’s room.

  5. My spelling might not be to your liking, but I consider it an Art Form. In very general terms the seasoned old Pilot who flew all his passengers into the side of the Barren Islands on a clear and calm day. The Super Qualified decades of experience Ace who killed Ted Stevens and most aboard while clipping the tops of the Alders below with his Turbo Otter—one of the greatest and safest planes ever built. The two flight instructors who mid air collided over Chugiak Airstrip. Even Knopp down in Soldotna was very experienced when when he T Boned the commercial flight with all on board. What Grieves Me, is that they where all Pilot Error. If everyone Flew By The Book there would One Tenth of fatal accidents. I live on an Airstrip next to a Floatplane subdivision. I don’t fly, but I lived here on the last 10 acres of the original homestead. 200 yards from me is field with 20 + Beavers on floats, with a dozen or so Super Cubs. As you said Rich, they are a very respectable, highly educated, fraturnaty . Unfortunately sooner or later, there comes a moment when they take their eye or attention, or good judgment off RESPONSIBLE FLYING, and down they go, taking the lives of their passengers. Passengers who where going to have a Wonderful Day, with someone who they trusted with their lives. The way I see this crash— the Pilot was goofing around in the canyon, showing off to his hunting buddy, lost control to adverse wind conditions, and down they went. You might call me HARSH. But I’m not nearly as Harsh as that plane in the bottom of the canyon. Two months from now I’ll ask my neighbor Roy what happened, but Suzanne will probably have it before then. Thanks for the Heads Up Rich. Pride Before A Fall.

  6. Funny a lot of comments about preflight , flying skills and non pilot comments .

    Interesting to note that flying the terrain ( close to the ground ) with GPS’s or handheld device’s can be very risky . More than 20 fatal aircraft accidents in our great state with pilots following mountainous terrain . Several on Denali ! I know of two Beavers and couple of Cubs . With fatal results .

    It’s noted that the mapping of Alaska terrain is not absolutely accurate . Some passes are off by 100’s of feet in elevation and makes it difficult flying in bad weather or limited visibility . Possibly contributed in this accident .

    ADN did a piece on this several years ago and funding was needed to accurately map Alaskas terrain . I wonder if it ever happened?

    May these poor souls rest in peace !

  7. Respect for these families is important. Grief will be monumental. I am a pilots wife. I know many fantastic pilots here in Alaska. Pilots who are not drama tv cowboys. I grieve for their families knowing people will scream pilot error…and never think about the damage of their words.

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