Rescuers - Pilot Looked Like He Had Been 'Attacked By an Animal'
Leyla Santiago and Lori Tipton / KTUU-TV / October 17, 2009
DENALI NATIONAL PARK, Alaska -- A pilot suffering from severe burns hiked 20 miles to safety in freezing conditions after his plane crashed inside Denali National Park and Preserve, a public information officer for the park said late Thursday.
Daniel McGregor survived the crash, but noted wolf biologist Gordon Haber, 67, was killed.
Two campers from New Hampshire -- 19-year-old Nick Rodrick and 20-year-old Jesse Hoagland -- found McGregor hiking through the woods and helped him to safety.
"I heard something, I thought it was a 'Hello' but I didn't know if--(Rodrick) thought it was a wolf, I didn't really know if it was a wolf," Hoagland said.
They ran out from their campsite to find McGregor, who was walking through Sable Pass to Igloo Campground. They said he looked like he had been attacked by an animal.
"He was just all scuffed up and dirty. He'd just walked 20 miles over the last two days by himself with no food or water," said Rodrick.
"He heard some wolves nearby, I guess, when he started walking. So he had part of the engine with him that he was going to use if he was attacked by wolves," said Hoagland.
Hoagland and Rodrick took McGregor back to their campsite and gave him food, water and Gatorade.
"He said that he took a lot of impact on the bottom of his feet when he crashed," Rodrick said. "And he said his heels were hurting pretty bad. And I mean he was staggering when he was walking."
"He said that they caught a downdrift in a valley and it brought their plane down. He was pulling up full power and it just wouldn't handle, so it went down," Hoagland said.
The 35-year-old pilot choked up when he told his rescuers that he had lost a passenger in the crash -- Haber, the wildlife scientist.
Haber was conducting a study of wolves in the northern part of the park, and the plane was reported overdue Wednesday evening.
An airborne search for the missing plane found the burned fuselage at about 3 p.m. Thursday. Just before darkness, an Alaska State Trooper made it to the crash site and determined the presence of human remains inside the wreckage.
After giving McGregor food and water, Hoagland and Rodrick slowly walked him another five miles back to their van. Hoagland offered McGregor some gloves, but his hands were so burned he couldn't use them.
"We got to the van, we cleared everything out as clear as we could, as fast as we could, pushed everything back. And then we sat on the couch right there," Rodrick said.
The three then drove to Denali Air, where McGregor works in the summer. They were able to notify his family and girlfriend, and medics.
"When we were driving through the park," Rodrick said, "he got on the phone with his buddy Rick: 'Rick, I'm alive!'"
"He first called his family to let them know he was alive, and then somebody, I'm not sure if he or this other person called the troopers," Kris Fister, public information officer for the park, said.
Though he suffered from severe burns sustained in the crash, McGregor was up talking, walking, and in good spirits, said Fister.
McGregor was piloting the plane being used by Haber, a well-known wolf conservation advocate and scientist, for research on the Toklat wolf pack.
Due to the dark and the amount of burning at the crash site, no one knew that the remains were of only one person, that it was only Haber inside the charred plane.
"Personnel on scene at the crash site yesterday forwarded information that they believed that the crash was not survivable," said Richard Moore of the National Park Service.
While troopers and park rangers worked at the crash site, McGregor was miles away, walking himself out of the remote area.
Officials say McGregor was stabilized by medics from the Tri-Valley Fire Department and the National Parks Service.
Friday morning, McGregor was flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
Dr. David Heimbach says because McGregor was flown immediately to Harborview instead of being transferred from another hospital, he still has soot on his face and it's hard to tell how serious his burns are. But Heimbach suspects they are mixed second and third-degree burns.
McGregor's right hand sustained third-degree burns. According to the doctor, he will need surgery.
Harborview's trauma team also evaluated McGregor, and despite hiking 20 miles in near-freezing conditions, he did not suffer from hypothermia and was not dehydrated.
Heimbach credited the two campers who gave McGregor water and food for helping with that.
"We've had a number of people who had to walk out from wilderness, and they have been remarkably tough. People are tough. Especially, I think, people that -- who live in that sort of environment and do that for a living," Heimbach said.
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were gathering evidence from the crash site Friday. They also planned to interview McGregor about the crash.
McGregor did also confirm that the remains found were that of the 67-year-old Haber.
As for Rodrick and Hoagland, the two men embarked on a coast-to-coast road trip in September and only recently arrived in Alaska. They were supposed to be in Fairbanks on Thursday, but after arriving decided the town was "lame" and headed for Denali instead.
The two men plan to visit McGregor on their way back to New Hampshire.