ANCHORAGE -- As friends and family members struggled with their grief, the bodies of a pilot and three mountaineering rangers were being recovered today from the site of a plane crash near Mount McKinley.
``It's horrible. It's been really hard on the whole community,'' said National Park Service spokeswoman Jane Tranel.
The crash Monday killed Hudson Air chief pilot Don Bowers, 52; National Park Service Ranger Cale Schaffer, 25; and volunteer rangers Brian Reagan, 27, and Adam Kolff, 27.
Bowers, of Montana Creek, was a longtime pilot and well-known veteran of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. He had often guided rescue teams to the mountain to save injured climbers.
Schaffer, an experienced mountaineer and emergency medical technician, had been a ranger in Denali National Park for two years. Prior to that he had worked at Grand Canyon National Park, worked as a wilderness guide and taught wilderness skills.
Kolff, of Boulder, Colo., had extensive climbing experience and recently returned from living in Peru for nearly three years while working for an environmental group, The Mountain Institute.
Reagan, of Anchorage, climbed McKinley last year and worked for the Alaska Natural History Association.
``Don's so connected to the community and Brian, Adam and Cale were just starting out their lives,'' Tranel said. ``It's just tragic all around.''
The National Transportation Safety Board went to the crash site early today to determine the cause of the crash.
When the investigator completes his work, the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group will fly to the site to recover the bodies. They will be flown to Anchorage.
The rangers in the fatal crash were flying to the Kahiltna Glacier base camp to relieve a patrol team coming off the mountain when they were turned back by a violent storm. The crew radioed in at about 6:30 p.m. Monday that they were returning to Talkeetna.
The plane was found Tuesday afternoon at the base of a rocky slope near the junction of the Yentna and Lacuna glaciers, about 15 miles from the Kahiltna Glacier camp. The plane had broken into several pieces and burned on impact.