DENALI NATIONAL PARK, ALASKA (BNO NEWS) — Three people were killed on Sunday afternoon when the large cargo plane they were on crashed in Denali National Park in Alaska, federal and local officials said on early Monday.
The large multi-engine cargo aircraft went down at around 3 p.m. local time in the south-facing slope of Mount Healy, within a mile (1.6 kilometer) of the park’s headquarters and approximately 200 yards (182 meters) north of Denali Park Road.
“The crash started a wildland fire, which has been contained at approximately one acre,” said Kris Fister, a spokeswoman for the park. “As the fire is still active, a thorough investigation of the scene is not possible until the fire is under control.”
Fister said the aircraft was a Fairchild C-123 cargo plane that was registered to All West Freight, Inc. based in Delta Junction, Alaska. “There were three people reported to be on board,” she said. “It appears as if there were no survivors. The identities are not being released at this time, pending notification of next of kin.”
Online records show All West Freight, Inc. is a private company that was established in 1996 and has several employees. A woman who answered the phone at All West Freight, Inc. on early Monday morning refused to give out any information.
Plumes of smoke could be seen rising from the wooded area after the plane went down. “The first personnel arrived on scene within minutes, but the wreckage was already engulfed in flames,” Fister said.
But Anchorage resident Jeff Kowalczy, who witnessed the crash, told KTUU-TV that the emergency response took longer. “We looked back and it started banking to the pilot’s left, kept banking more and more until it was upside-down and crashed in the hill right in back of us,” Kowalczyk told the station.
“We walked around the perimeter, took about a half-hour for the park rangers to show up and help out – but we saw one body, one body burned pretty bad, pilot probably,” he added.
Another witness, George Clare of Las Vegas, told the Anchorage Daily News that he saw the plane flying ‘very low’ and slowly while he was walking toward the visitor’s center near the park entrance. He thought the plane was going to land on a local airstrip, so he proceeded to the visitor’s center. Within minutes, people came running in and saying a plane had crashed.
He said the crash caused a column of smoke west of the visitor’s center, according to the newspaper. “It was a military khaki green kind of color,” Clare said. “It was propeller-driven. It was a fixed-wing aircraft, and it had kind of a flat underbelly.”
In addition to National Park Service medics and other emergency responders, the Tri-Valley and McKinley Village volunteer fire departments responded with fire engines and an ambulance. The Tanana Zone of the Alaska Fire Service dropped eight smokejumpers into the scene.
“The jumpers and Denali wildland fire fighters are currently putting water on hot spots to fully control and extinguish the fire,” Fister said. “They and [National Park and Preserve] rangers will be on scene overnight.”
The Alaska State Troopers also responded and have assisted with the investigation.
Both the NTSB and FAA have been notified of the accident, and NTSB investigators are expected to arrive at the scene on Monday morning.
As a result of the accident, federal officials have placed a temporary flight restriction (TFR) in effect over the crash site until further notice. “Pilots using the park airstrip or transiting the Windy Pass area are cautioned to check Notices to Aircraft (NOTAMs) and be alert for firefighting and official aircraft,” Fister added.
The deadly crash comes days after a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III aircraft went down at the end of the runway at Elmendrof Air Force Base in Anchorage, leaving four airmen killed.