Lost Backpackers in Denali Reunited with Families
Contact: Kris Fister, 907-683-9583
Abby Flantz and Erica Nelson were grinning from ear to ear as they disembarked the helicopter at the Denali Park airstrip at 4: 55 p.m. today and walked into the waiting arms of their anxious families. They were spotted this afternoon by the park’s plane, in an area north of the park boundary, about 15 miles north of where they began their hike and eight miles west of the Parks Highway. After the reunion they were assessed by park medics for any medical issues, and then interviewed by search managers to get a thorough understanding of where they had gone, and what they had done during their six day ordeal.
Today’s remarkable chain of events began when Erica Nelson called her mother’s cell phone at approximately 9:15 a.m., while the Nelson and Flantz family members were being briefed on today’s planned search activities. She said that she and Abby were not hurt and had just at that time been able to obtain a cell signal. Search managers attempted to get details of their possible location from them over the phone, using nearby landmarks. They also asked the young women to move to an open area, remain at that location, make themselves highly visible, and signal any helicopters that flew overhead.
Two helicopters were immediately dispatched to the area where the two women were believed to be, in order to locate them and pick them up. After an hour of aerial searching one more helicopter and the park’s fixed-wing aircraft was also dispatched to search the area as the two women could not be found. As more time elapsed ground searchers and two dog teams were added to the search, which was taking place on the eastern edge of the original search zone, approximately five miles west of the Parks Highway and north of Mount Healy.
At 3:30 p.m. Erica called her mother’s cell phone again. At that time she was told to use the text message feature to conserve battery strength. Between 3:30 p.m. – 4:15 p.m. she provided information on the features that they could see from their location, and if and where they could see or hear aircraft. During this time cell service provider ACS was providing the park’s communication center with information to pinpoint possible search locations using bearings and distance from cell sites. This information provided a more specific site for searchers to investigate. At 4:22 p.m. the park fixed-wing aircraft spotted the pair. They were quickly picked up by an incident helicopter and brought to the park’s airstrip.
Abby and Erica are relaxing tonight with their families. They all wish to have more time to consider requests for interviews. Additional information will be provided as it becomes available. The search teams will be going through a debriefing and demobilization process tonight and tomorrow.