From photographs of the wreckage, Richard Moore figured the odds were extremely poor that anyone survived the fiery plane crash in Alaska's Denali National Park. Remains were spotted in the burned tangle of metal.
Then the park ranger medic got word that the pilot of the Cessna 185 had walked 20 miles for help, despite significant injuries, following the crash that killed his passenger, wolf biologist Gordon Haber. Rushing to respond, Moore braced for the worst, but found Daniel McGregor to be alert and in good spirits, although he had serious burns to his face and hands. The pilot's clothing was burned as well.
"I was frankly amazed and astounded at his condition and his attitude," Moore said Friday. "He was talking and very stoic about his injuries and situation."
McGregor, 35, was flown early Friday to Seattle's Harborview Medical Center, where he was in satisfactory condition. He was awake and had family at his side, but neither he nor his family was doing interviews, said hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg-Hanson.
"He is still coming to grips with what happened," she said. "Obviously, it was an emotional experience. He's not only dealing with the physical part of his injuries, but also with the emotional part of this tragedy."
McGregor walked about 16 miles before he encountered two campers. The three walked another four miles to where the campers had parked their car, then drove more than an hour to McGregor's home, where he called his family and Alaska State Troopers, according to Park spokeswoman Kris Fister. Troopers notified rangers late Thursday night.
McGregor confirmed that the remains found at the wreckage are those of Haber, 67, a well-known local independent biologist who had studied Denali's wolves for decades. Fister said officials hoped to recover the remains Friday.
The Cessna took off at about noon Wednesday and was supposed to return by nightfall. Moore said the crash occurred that afternoon.
An aerial search team spotted the wreckage Thursday afternoon on a wooded mountainside near the East Fork of the Toklat River. A search plane then landed on a gravel river bar a half mile below the crash site, Fister said.
A trooper hiked to the wreckage and found the burned plane as well as human remains inside.
'Good news mixed with bad'
Rangers kept searching the area for signs that anyone could have survived, Moore said. The effort was still under way when searchers learned the pilot indeed survived.
"For all the people involved in this search, there is some good news mixed with the bad," he said. "We're very pleased that he's been found alive."
Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board arrived at the park Friday to begin looking into the cause of the crash. The NTSB will interview McGregor when they can, Fister said.
A flight plan indicated Haber and McGregor were looking for wolf packs. Haber, an independent biologist, was a frequent visitor to Denali and for years pushed for greater protections for the wolves when they venture outside park boundaries where they can be trapped and hunted.
The 6-million-acre park has about 100 wolves and more than a dozen wolf packs.