CBSN

Alaska sightseeing plane crash leaves 4 dead, 1 missing

This file image shows a K2 Aviation plane like the one that crashed on August 4, 2018.

KTVA-TV

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Searchers said Monday that they found four people dead in a sightseeing airplane carrying Polish tourists in Alaska's Denali National Park — a day and a half after thick clouds hampered the response to a distress call.

Another person is missing and presumed dead after the crash Saturday evening on a mountain ridge about 14 miles southwest of Denali, North America's tallest mountain. After going down, the pilot reported by satellite phone that passengers suffered injuries but the connection failed before he could give details.

"The pilot was able to make a satellite phone call to K2 Aviation," National Park Service spokesperson Katherine Belcher said, CBS affiliate KTVA reports. "He did report some injuries, he made another phone call about an hour later at 7 p.m., and that is the last known communication anyone has had with the pilot."

The airplane was stocked with sleeping bags, a stove and food, giving hope that survivors could be found despite terrain described by the National Park Service as "extremely steep and a mix of near-vertical rock, ice and snow."

Low-lying clouds and rainy conditions prevented crews from spotting the wreckage until Monday, when clearing weather allowed a helicopter to reach the crash site. A park service ranger descended by short-haul line.

The ranger dug through snow that had filled the aircraft and found the bodies of four people. There were no footprints or other disturbances in the snow that would have indicated anyone made it out of the plane, the park service said.

The plane operated by K2 Aviation had taken off Saturday evening with a pilot and four passengers for a tour of Kahiltna Glacier, the jumping off point for climbers attempting to summit Denali.

It crashed around 6 p.m. Saturday near the top of 10,900-foot Thunder Mountain, which rises above the glacier and is described by the park service as more of a mile-long ridge than a mountain.

Climbing season on Denali has ended but sightseeing flights can still land on the glacier, allowing visitors to walk on the ice field, Belcher said.

"It's a very tricky terrain up there," Belcher said, according to KTVA-TV. "It's basically a sheer vertical cliff: lots of ice, lots of snow, lots of rock."