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Wolf Biologist Killed In Plane Crash in Denali National Park, Pilot Survived


Noted wolf biologist Gordon Haber was killed in this plane crash. NPS photos.

A noted Alaskan wolf biologist has been killed in a plane crash in a remote area of Denali National Park and Preserve. The pilot, though he suffered burns, was able to walk out and alert authorities.

Dr. Gordon Haber and pilot Dan McGregor had left Wednesday for a flight over the northern end of the park to monitor wolf packs. When the Cessna 185 didn't return on schedule that evening, authorities were notified and an aerial search was mounted by the National Park Service and Alaska State Troopers.

Wreckage of the single-engine plane was spotted from the air Thursday afternoon on a steep slope west of the East Fork of the Toklat River, approximately seven miles north of the Denali Park Road, park officials said. "A search plane was able to land later in the afternoon on the river bar approximately one-half mile below the crash site, and an Alaska State Trooper hiked to the scene to investigate. The aircraft was substantially damaged by the impact and the post crash fire, but the trooper was able to determine the presence of human remains before increasing darkness prevented his further investigation," they said.

The 35-year-old McGregor told authorities that after the crash he walked to the Denali Park Road where he found two campers at the Igloo Creek Campground who drove him to his home, according to a park release. Once home, the pilot called his family to let them know he was OK, and the authorities, the release said.

The National Park Service was notified of his situation about 10:30 p.m. Thursday.

"McGregor was alert and in good spirits, talking to friends and family via cell phone while being treated and waiting for the air ambulance to arrive from Fairbanks," a park release said. "It is estimated that he walked approximately 20 miles during his ordeal. He will be interviewed later by National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) personnel as part of the accident investigation. McGregor has confirmed that remains found at the crash site are those of Gordon Haber. Rangers are stationed at the remote crash site overnight, in order to secure the scene prior to arrival of NTSB investigators on Friday."

Dr. Haber, 67, who has studied Denali's wolves since 1966, long had been critical of Alaska's wolf management plans, particularly their hunting and trapping regulations, according to John Quinley, the Park Service's assistant regional director for communications in Alaska.

“He has been an advocate for stronger protection of wolves, particularly on the northern and eastern boundaries of Denali, which in various configurations have been open to trapping in recent years, outside the park’s boundary," the Park Service spokesman said Thursday afternoon. "His concern was, in part, that those wolves on the eastern end, some of the packs, have been studied going way way back, back to when (Adolph) Murie was working in Denali, and he saw a danger if those long-studied packs were eliminated by trapping or hunting that that’s a significant loss for the park and park visitors.

"He also saw that some of those eastern wolves, they’re protected in the park and they wander around particularly close to people at various times of years and they wander outside the park, in the spring, and if they wander close to people they wind up dead, in traps particularly," said Mr. Quinley.


I never met Gordon, but always respected his commitment to the Alaskan wolf population. May his memory be a blessing.

A possible cause for this crash could be an indicated design flaw well known to both the FAA and NTSB for decades.
After a three year debacle with the FAA the NTSB closed their safety recommendation and walked away. Pilots and passengers continue to die or become injured possibly due to undetectable water in the fuel tanks the pilot cannot positively detect during the pre-flight of the aircraft.

Data Source: NTSB Recommendations to FAA and FAA Responses
Report No: A-83-6
Letter Date:01/13/1986
Engine stoppage because of water in the fuel occurred most often
during the takeoff and initial climb phase of flight, and frequently bladder-type fuel cells such as Cessna Models C-180, C-182, C-185, C-206, and C-207.

Denali's wolves have lost the person who understood them most, their best and strongest advocate. I implore the Park Service to learn from what Gordon showed us, and manage Denali's wolves as the packs/family structures that they are, and not just as a population. The Park should immediately work with the state to create the buffers especially in the Stampede trail areas to protect these packs that hundreds of thousands of tourists come to the park to see.

it appalls me that people who know nothing about something offer speculation and infere that the faa is negligent in regards to aircraft safety. i have flown the 64juliet, the aircfaft that crashed, many times over 25years and can attest that there was no fuel problem. the faa has done a fantastic job of correcting any known or proveable problems with aircraft. there are many many many, airworthiness directives for all aircraft that are required to be complied with by aircraft owners. these directives are to fix any problems which have manifested themselves in an aircraft. these problems are found by pilots, the faa, the manufacturers and the ntsb through accident investigation. all these parties work together for one common goal. aircraft safety. dan was a very good pilot and very experienced in alaska flying. alaska is a dangerous flying environment and even the best pilots can get in trouble. the pilots of alaska know the dangers and risks and gladly assume them for the privelege of flying the bush in one of the most beutiful and rugged environments. flying the bush is a lifestyle and is inherently dangerous. if we made all pusuits perfectly safe, we would lose the most important parts of life.

I stayed up late here in SE Alaska to wait for good news after the crashed plane was spotted on the side of a mountain in Denali and went to bed tearful after learning that Dr. Haber had died. I was relieved to find this morning that the pilot, Dan, survived and wish him well. His is a fantastic story of survival as he had to walk many miles to get help and now has his physical work cut out for him recovering from his burns. I was honored to know of Dr. Haber's work through my own passion for wolves in Alaska. Peace to all of the families, friends, co-workers of these brave men.

It is a sad day for the Park, but Gordon died doing what he loved best. We should all be so lucky. To those of you who care about his mission, carry on in his place. We hope to be there soon to do the same.

My thoughts and prayers are with Gordon's friends and families. Having talked to him a few times I realize that much of what he says makes sense. And having driven the park road over the last few years wolves are now seen and enjoyed with great regularity. I have met many who want to see a wolf more than the bear or the mountain. May that opportunity continue! Thanks for your efforts on the behalf of wolves and a sensible ecology Gordie! Bo and Sharon--hello from someone who worked with you many years ago in Denali.

I met Gordon Haber briefly at a wolf conference and was fascinated by his love and enthusiasm for the wolves.
As the editor of the German Wolf Magazin I have written a few articles about him and admired his work.
We all from the wolf communities worldwide will miss him a lot.

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