Pilot Crashes Plane in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Survives Alongside Passenger

by Jon D. B.

Miraculously, both the pilot and passenger were extracted uninjured after the plane flipped 200-feet through Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve.

Pilot Christopher Gates of Chugiak, Alaska attempted take off from a mesa above Ptarmigan Lake in the national park. August 7’s turbulent winds caused the left wing of his plane to stall and contact the ground. The combined force of the wing’s grounding and severe wind caused the plane to roll and land approximately two hundred yards downslope from the top of the mesa, the park cites in their media release.

At approximately 3:50 PM, the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) was notified of a plane crash near Ptarmigan Lake in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. The pilot had activated their Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) belonging to the compromised Cessna 172 aircraft.

Mobilizing a rescue, Alaska State Troopers and NPS dispatched aircraft to the scene and verified that both the pilot and passenger (a minor) were alive. They could walk, but officials would decide a helicopter rescue was necessary.

To do so, the Alaska Air National Guard at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, AK would dispatch a HH-60G Black Hawk Helicopter to the site around 7:32 PM. The pilot and passenger – both unharmed – were then extracted at approximately 10:15 p.m. and transported to Alaska’s Palmer Airport.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve

If you’re unfamiliar with Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, it must be seen to be believed. This is America’s largest national park; the size of six Yellowstones combined. It’s also:

  • The largest wilderness area in the National Wilderness Preservation System
  • Designated as a World Heritage Site with Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve, the Canadian neighbors Kluane National Park & Reserve and Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park. (Making this the world’s largest international protected wilderness)
  • Home to four major mountain ranges: Wrangell, St. Elias, Chugach, and the eastern part of the Alaskan Range
  • Nine of the 16 highest peaks in the United States reside here
  • Mt. Wrangell, at 14,163 feet (4.3km), is one of the largest active volcanoes in North America
  • The Nabesna Glacier, at approximately 53 miles (85km), is the longest valley glacier in North America and the world’s longest interior valley glacier

“Number and scale loom large here, magnified by splendid isolation,” the park cites of their immense wilds. Head to the Alaska national park to experience “peaks upon peaks and glaciers after glaciers. Follow any braided river or stream to its source and you will find either a receding, advancing, or tidewater glacier.”

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve also allows visitors to view representative Alaska wildlife alongside historic mining sites. There’s no shortage of adventure to be had. Hike its mountains, float its rivers, ski its glaciers, or do as many do: fly over this landscape.

Small passenger planes are a common sight and sound around the park, as it’s the only way to access many areas. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve’s wide-open wilderness also allows for terrific flights and birds-eye viewing. But be sure to heed local weather forecast and park regulations to ensure a safe flight.

Stay safe out there, Outsiders!