|Human remains have been found aboard the burned wreckage of an airplane in Denali National Park, the National Park Service said Thursday night.
The wreckage appears to be that of a missing Cessna 185 that carried wolf biologist Gordon Haber and pilot Daniel McGregor, park service spokeswoman Kris Fister said about 8:15 p.m. in an e-mailed release.
Fister said an Alaska State Trooper who hiked up to the crash site found human remains but that the identities of the victims can't be confirmed until a more thorough investigation takes place.
"The airplane is in pieces," Fister said. "We can't confirm there were remains of two people. There were just human remains."
Darkness settled in before the trooper could investigate further.
The wreckage was spotted in some trees on a mountainside near the east fork of the Toklat River about seven miles downstream from the park road. A search plane was able to land on a river bar about a half-mile below the crash site, and the trooper hiked in, she said.
The plane took off at about noon Wednesday and was supposed to return by nightfall. The Park Service was notified at about midnight that the plane was overdue.
Fister said a flight plan indicated the two were looking for wolf packs. Thursday's search was focused on the north side of the park because that is where wolves tend to be, she said.
Haber, an independent biologist who for decades has studied Denali's wolves, is a frequent visitor to the 6 million acre park in Southcentral Alaska.
It was not known where Haber intended to look for wolves on Wednesday.
Denali National Park has about 100 wolves and more than a dozen wolf packs, including the Toklat pack, that are some of the most viewed and researched wolves in the world. Visitors to the park traveling in buses occasionally see wolves from the park road, usually members of the Toklat pack.
For years, Haber has pushed for greater protections for the wolves when they venture outside park boundaries and onto state lands where they can be hunted and trapped. Two years ago he was angered when as many as 19 wolves, including four collared wolves, were killed outside the northeast boundary of the park and outside a no-trapping buffer zone.
An entry on his Web site in March said the Toklat pack remained at 11 wolves, including five to six pups, down from 14 to 17 wolves in late January.
Haber said the information was garnered from his research flights.
"He has been here and doing research in this area for many years," Fister said. "Obviously, he is very familiar with the park."
Fister said a C-130 aircraft was used Wednesday night in an attempt to pick up the plane's emergency locator if it had been activated, but no signal was detected.
The weather in the park on Wednesday was clear with some low-lying fog banks. Winds were calm. On Thursday, the weather was mostly overcast with a trace of snow.
Daily News reporter Don Hunter contributed to this report.