Fairbanks Daily News-Miner - Federal investigators arrive at Denali crash site victims identified
Federal investigators arrive at Denali crash site; victims identified
by Molly Rettig / mrettig@newsminer.com
4 days ago | 12567 views | 4 4 comments | 61 61 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A fireball rises seconds after the crash of a Fairchild C-123 in Denali National Park on Sunday afternoon as seen by hikers on Mount Healy. Three people died in the crash, which sparked a small wildfire. Photo courtesy of William Rice
A fireball rises seconds after the crash of a Fairchild C-123 in Denali National Park on Sunday afternoon as seen by hikers on Mount Healy. Three people died in the crash, which sparked a small wildfire. Photo courtesy of William Rice
Photo courtesy Kris Fister, National Park Service
Photo courtesy Kris Fister, National Park Service
Photo courtesy Kris Fister, National Park Service
Photo courtesy Kris Fister, National Park Service
FAIRBANKS - Federal crash investigators arrived Monday at the scene of a deadly plane crash in Denali National Park. On Sunday afternoon, a large cargo plane crashed near the base of the south-facing slope of Mount Healy, bursting into flames and killing three.

On Monday evening, the National Park Service released the names of the victims: Bill "Wild Bill" Michel, 61, of Delta Junction; John Eshleman, 52, of Wasilla; and Paul Quartly, 66, of Wasilla.

Michel was the owner of All West Freight Inc. of Delta Junction and the plane’s pilot. The men’s identities were determined through interviews with acquaintances, friends, and relatives familiar with the plane and the intended flight on Sunday, according to a press release from the National Park Service.

The crash was 1 mile from park headquarters, 200 yards north of the Denali Park Road and about 1 mile from the Parks Highway.

The McKinley National Airport was only 1.5 miles away. The plane’s origin and destination have not been confirmed, though eyewitnesses said the plane was flying low and looked bound for the nearby airstrip.

Park spokesperson Kris Fister identified the aircraft as a Fairchild C-123 registered to All West Freight Inc. The collision caused a wildfire that spread to 1 acre.

William Rice and his family had just begun their descent of Mount Healy when they witnessed the crash from an overlook about 1,700 feet up.

“The left wing of the airplane was just about pointing to the ground. It looked like it was in a very hard turn, which looked very unusual for a plane that size,” he said.

The crash happened not on the side of the mountain but closer to the valley, he said.

“It was there one second and the next second all you saw was an explosion of flames, a column of smoke that looked like a bomb went off and you heard a resounding boom,” he said. “It was very clear from the initial fireball that there were no survivors.”

Rice was concerned about the wildfire that had been ignited by the crash and his family headed down while watching the scene.

“We were waiting to find out how fast people would be responding to the fire,” he said.

Emergency responders arrived within minutes. In addition to National Park Service medics and firefighters, the Tri-Valley and McKinley Village volunteer fire departments responded with fire engines and an ambulance. Eight smokejumpers also were deployed to the fire, which Rice spotted about two hours after the initial impact.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators arrived this morning and representatives from the state medical examiner’s office arrived this afternoon to piece together what went wrong. According to a press release from Fister, the NTSB and FAA will take over the investigation once the medical examiner’s office completes its work.

Plane crashes occur about once per year in Denali National Park, but they typically involve smaller planes and more remote areas, Fister said.

“We have a lot of small airplane traffic because we have flight operators outside the park. ... We have Kantishna Air Taxi Service and a lot of shuttles between the air strip and the train strip and Kantishna air strip further out,” she said.

Those are mostly single-engine fixed wing craft, not multiengine planes like this one.

The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed the aircraft’s tail number was N709RR, the same aircraft used in the filming of the movie “ConAir.”

The Rock Creek Trail reopened Monday, and the Roadside Trail should reopen in the next few days. While the park service is still in emergency response mode, visitors shouldn’t notice anything unusual, Fister said.

Contact staff writer Molly Rettig at 459-7590.
comments (4)
« theresadog wrote on Wednesday, Aug 04 at 06:20 AM »
In the early 80's (82-84) my then husband Dave, me, and our partner, staked land in the Big River (across the Range) that was part of the remote parcel program.

Our land was located generally "across" from the White Mtn. Mine. Since we were living in Soldotna at the time, we looked around for local pilots to fly us, sled dogs and our gear back and forth as we staked the land and built our cabin. Wild Bill was the primary pilot we flew with.

He relished the flying for us, telling us he looked for any reason "to punch holes in the clouds," and we liked flying with him. He was excited to fly, but didn't take chances if the conditions were sketchy.

Our airstrip was a gravel bar strip, about 700' long, in the middle of the braided Big River.

One October day, Bill used his Otter to transport our initial load out to Big River. When we got within site of our gravel bar, we could see that a portion of the landing area was covered with water. Bill looked down, circled a time or two and said "hmmm," and we landed.

We unloaded quickly, stringing dogs to bushes and tossing dog food in piles. Bill wanted to get off the ground as soon as he could before he became stranded. The strip was quickly disappearing under water.

On departure, the otter's wheels splashed through the rising water the last few feet before they left the earth. In the air, he circled once, toggled his wings, and away he went.

Bill, you were the best

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« arcticjoezzz wrote on Tuesday, Aug 03 at 08:42 PM »
wish i was there with you !!

probably like barb ..

knew bill thru (SC7's) skyvans, doing parts @ arctic circle air..we had a few of 'em...

had much respect for a really nice guy !!

wild and crazy like all of us...

hopefully, doing what we love..

like wild bill...

with tears, bye man..

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« AV8TR1 wrote on Tuesday, Aug 03 at 10:42 AM »
Bill was my friend and he will be missed my myself and all those who knew what a wonderful person he was.

If the reports are true as to what people saw and were hearing when the plane flew over them I would suspect that the plane was in serious trouble and Bill steered this falling aircraft away from where people were.

The 123 is a wonderful old bird I have many hours as PIC in them back in the 1960s.

3 souls lost and I shall remember Bill always and those who knew the others who perished my heart felt feelings to them.
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« dallas-rivera wrote on Monday, Aug 02 at 09:43 PM »
Terribly tragic! Rest in Peace, my friend, Paul, and his friends.

My humble condolences to his wife and family and all their friends.
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