|The pilot of the wolf observation plane that crashed in Denali National Park was found Thursday evening by two aspiring filmmakers from New Hampshire who first debated whether his cries for help were the howls of a wolf or the pleas of a man.
The pilot, Daniel McGregor, 35, had already beaten the odds by surviving a fiery crash Wednesday that killed noted wildlife biologist Gordon Haber, 67. McGregor spent Wednesday night alone near the crash site, seven miles north of the Denali park road, then, with burns on the upper part of his body and a partially melted fleece jacket, hiked all day Thursday -- about 15 miles -- before spotting the ranger cabin near Igloo campground.
Around 7 p.m., as dark was falling at the campground, Nick Rodrick, 19, of Penacook, N.H., and buddy Jesse Hoagland, 20, of Loudon, N.H., heard McGregor in the distance.
"He thought it was a person, I thought it was wolves," Rodrick said in a telephone interview today from Denali Park. The pair had driven to Alaska in a van, hoping to make a documentary film of their adventure.
After a moment, they heard the sound again. This time, they both knew it was a call for help.
Startled, they saw McGregor calling out toward the ranger cabin, which was unoccupied.
"He came staggering up to us," Rodrick said. "It kind of freaked us out at first."
They got McGregor back to their campsite.
"He told us he had lost a guy out there," Rodrick said. "He was really in rough shape."
They didn't press the pilot to explain what happened, though he volunteered that heavy winds coming down a valley caught the plane and he was unable to recover.
They fed the pilot crackers and gave him water and a jacket. Their van was parked about five miles away at Teklanika Campground, the farthest that visitors are permitted to drive into the park this time of year. They set off for the van about 8 p.m.
"He was walking on his own," Rodrick said. "He told us he was starting to see things in the woods. You could tell he had been in the woods, with no food, no water. We kept him talking."
They got the van but were out of cell phone range. With no idea that a search had been under way most of the day for the airplane, they drove right by ranger headquarters near the park entrance. McGregor was finally able to reach someone on his phone, and they met some people at the headquarters of Denali Air, outside the park.
The pilot climbed into a car driven by a friend who was going to take him to a hospital, but they turned back when a ranger reached them by cell phone to explain an ambulance was on the way.
Acting chief ranger Richard Moore, a medic, said he talked to McGregor in the car when it got back to Denali Air, then got him into an ambulance from Healy, the next town north of the park. There, he was met by an air ambulance that flew him to a burn center in Seattle, where he was reported in satisfactory condition.
Moore said rescuers hoped to retrieve Haber's body from the crash site this afternoon. Since the early 1990s, Haber has done extensive research on wolves in and around the park, with his work often sponsored by wildlife-protection organizations. His research was used in court cases challenging state efforts to control wolf populations in the area, and he often clashed with hunting advocates.
Find Richard Mauer online at adn.com/contact/rmauer or call 257-4345.
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