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Backpackers Remain Missing at Denali National Park & Preserve


Hikers Abby Flantz and Erica Nelson remain missing since failing to return last Friday from an overnight backpacking trip in Denali National Park & Preserve. Ground search teams aided by two dog teams and three aircraft have been looking for the missing hikers in a 100-square mile area of the park, but have thus far failed to find any sign of them. The search has been difficult and slow because the Savage River drainage, the area the missing hikers headed into, lacks trails and is quite rugged and heavily vegetated.

Yesterday’s operations, which involved 51 people, were suspended at 7:00 p.m. to allow crews and pilots to get adequate rest before resuming search efforts today. More than 20 members of the ground search teams camped overnight at the Lower Savage ranger patrol cabin located on the northern boundary of the park about four miles downstream from (i.e., north of) the Denali Park Road.

The Park Road (or shuttle road) bridges the Savage River at about the Mile 14 mark. The area of the Savage River drainage the missing hikers headed into is north of the shuttle road. To get to the Mount Healy Wilderness unit, the overnight area indicated on their permit, the hikers would have had to ford the Savage River to the east side. Since it is not known whether high water prevented them from doing so, or perhaps overcame them as they attempted the ford, searchers must look for them downstream and on both sides of the river.

Searchers will focus on the same area today, but with additional teams in the field. According to Kris Fister, Denali Public Affairs Officer,

They include members of Matanuska Search and Rescue from Wasilla, Alaska Mountain Rescue Group from Anchorage, and a team of whitewater river experts from the Denali Outdoor Center in Healy. The air search will continue with three helicopters and the park’s fixed-wing aircraft. The helicopters are being provided by Air Logistics from Fairbanks, Maritime Helicopters, inc. of Homer, as well as Helo One from the Alaska State Troopers. The high-altitude Lama helicopter [used in yesterday’s search] is on a mandatory one day rest period.

The National Park Service search managers would like to speak with anyone
who was hiking in the Savage River drainage between Thursday, June 12 and
Sunday, June 15. Anyone who may have information to share is asked to call
(907) 683-9648.

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