ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Rescuers in Alaska skied across a glacier in whiteout conditions Monday evening to bring food, water and blankets to a group of sightseers stranded after their small plane apparently crashed.
A four-man rescue squad found the five people on board the plane in good condition on Knik Glacier, roughly 40 miles northeast of Anchorage, said Alaska National Guard spokesman Maj. Guy Hayes.
Rescuers had been trying to reach the plane since Sunday afternoon after the aircraft's locator beacon went off, but were hampered by blizzard conditions, including winds gusting to 70 mph and low visibility.
"Now they have the supplies they need to stay warm — food, water, everything to be out there 48-72 hours" if need be, Hayes said.
There were only a couple of minor injuries among the Alaskan pilot and four visitors from Texas, Hayes said, adding he did not have names or hometowns.
The Anchorage Daily News identified the pilot as Donald Erbey, 49.
"The pilot had taken his father's plane on a sightseeing trip from Palmer (north of Anchorage) over the Knik Glacier," Tech Sgt. Kenneth Bellamy said earlier.
The rescue team will stay with the sightseers until they can be rescued by helicopter when the weather clears, Hayes said.
A helicopter and a refueling aircraft, both from Kulis Alaska Air National Guard base in Anchorage, have been circling above the glacier, waiting for a break in the weather that would allow the helicopter to attempt a rescue.
Hayes said family members believe the plane hit a downdraft and that caused it to crash. The pilot reported it was intact but not flyable.
Allen Kenitzer, a spokesman with the Federal Aviation Administration, said no one from the agency could confirm the plane crashed. The agency listed its initial report as an incident-crash, but Kenitzer said no one from the FAA has interviewed the pilot.
Rescue crews had been concerned because the occupants of the plane were not carrying survival gear and family members said they were wearing only light clothing when they departed. But in an earlier radio conversation, the sightseers said outside temperatures were 45 degrees while temperatures in the plane were 50 degrees.