Cargo plane crashes in Alaska's Denali Park, sparks wildfire

Monday, August 2, 2010

Reports identify the crashed aircraft as a Fairchild C-123K cargo plane (file photo)
Image: United States Air Force.

A cargo plane crashed into a mountain Sunday afternoon in Alaska's Denali National Park, killing around three people and sparking a small wildfire after the aircraft disintegrated and burst into flames. According to the National Park Service, the plane crashed into the southern slope of Mount Healy, and the crash was just 200 yards away from Denali's only road.

Though it is estimated that three people died in the crash, it has been hard to determine exactly how many died as "the plane pretty much disintegrated," park spokeswoman Kris Fister said. The explosion from the crash sparked a small wildfire that firefighters contained within two acres (one hectare.)

Though George Clare, a man from Las Vegas who witnessed the crash, thought the plane looked like a military aircraft, US military officials have stated that none of their planes were involved. Clare has said that the plane was "... a military khaki green kind of color. It was propeller-driven. It was a fixed wing aircraft and it had kind of a flat underbelly." The Federal Aviation Administration, which tracks civil flying accidents, later circulated a report that identified the aircraft as a Fairchild C-123K, and echoed the initial reports that all three on board died, including one passenger.

Jeff Kowalczyk, an EMT hiking through the 6,075,107 acre park with his wife, a nurse, said that he saw the plane positioned almost upside-down as it crashed. The crash was only a few hundred yards from where he was watching, and he also said "the whole experience was really surreal."

The crash came just four days after another major airplane crash in the state, when a military cargo plane crashed a minute after taking off at the Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage. The crash killed four people onboard who were training for an airshow.