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State Troopers Name Victims of Helo-1 Crash near Talkeetna

April 01, 2013|By Neil Torquiano | Channel 2 News
  • Archived photo of Alaska State Troopers Helo-1 responding to a deadly avalanche near Moose Pass in 2010.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Alaska State Troopers say a veteran pilot, a Talkeetna-based trooper and a rescued snowmachiner died when an AST helicopter crashed overnight Saturday during a search-and-rescue mission near Talkeetna.

In a somber Monday press conference held at AST headquarters on Tudor Road in Anchorage, Alaska Department of Public Safety Commissioner tentatively identified the dead as 55-year-old Anchorage-based pilot Mel Nading, 40-year-old trooper Tage Toll and 56-year-old Talkeetna man Carl Ober. Positive confirmation of their identities has yet to be made, pending examination of remains recovered from the crash site.

Asked Monday about the impact of losing those on board Helo-1, AST Director Col. Keith Mallard described the pain in personal terms.

"As you can imagine, the loss of -- it's like losing family," Mallard said.

The events leading to the crash began shortly after 7:30 p.m. Saturday, when Palmer troopers received a report that Ober was stranded while snowmachining near Larson Lake around 7:35 p.m. Troopers said Nading took off in Helo-1, picking up Toll before heading out to the search area -- standard AST procedure for a search-and-rescue flight.


"There's always a spotter on board," Mallard said, noting that the position is sometimes taken by a member of a rescue group rather than a trooper.

An initial dispatch on the crash Sunday said that Ober was found at about 10 p.m.

“Helo-1 located the snowmachiner, landed, and picked him up,” troopers wrote.

Troopers said the last contact with Helo-1 occurred about an hour later.

“At approximately (11:17 p.m.), Helo 1 was enroute to Sunshine Tesoro to meet with medics, but never arrived,” troopers wrote.

A search and rescue effort was intiated after contact with Helo-1 was lost. Just after 9:30 a.m. Sunday, the 11th Air Force's Rescue Coordination Center located the crash site, but found no survivors.

Alaska National Guard spokesperson Kalei Rupp said poor weather conditions prevented a search for the helicopter, which was reported overdue around 1 a.m. Sunday. Search efforts continued at about 5 a.m., with AST serving as the lead agency in the incident.

The identities of the victims weren't released until Monday, as authorities contacted family and friends.

"This tragedy is going to have a very profound effect on all the employees of the Department of Public Safety, the Alaska State Troopers, [and] the search and rescue community, " Peters said. "Helo-1 is our main helicopter that goes out and Helo-1 has pulled so many people from the Alaska wilderness."

National Transportation Safety Board investigator Clint Johnson says investigators are being flown in from the Lower 48 to investigate the crash, because all of the Alaska-based inspectors work very closely with troopers. He says the last time he recalls outside investigators leading an Alaska crash investigation was more than a decade ago, when retired trooper Bob Larson was killed in a helicopter crash.

Peters says troopers had ordered a helicopter intended for use in the Fairbanks area, which may replace Helo-1 but won't come online until this summer. She says Alaskans will be more deeply affected by the loss of the pilot and the trooper in the crash, as well as their knowledge.

"We can replace a helicopter, but the experience that went down with Helo-1, that's irreplaceable -- it's irreplaceable," Peters said.

Mallard said Monday that the Alaska National Guard helped recover the bodies from the crash site. They were taken from Palmer to the state medical examiner's office in Anchorage overnight Sunday, but they didn't travel alone.

"They were escorted by law enforcement -- every department in this area," Mallard said.

This is a developing story. Please check and the Channel 2 newscasts for updates.

Channel 2’s Samantha Angaiak and Chris Klint contributed to this story.

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