Canadian crews work to recover body of Alaska pilot

Posted: Sunday, July 29, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A Canadian search and rescue crew worked Saturday to recover the body of a pilot killed when his plane crashed on a glacier in Kluane National Park, while the two mountaineers who survived the crash were recovering from their injuries at an Anchorage hospital.

The pilot, identified as Kurt Gloyer, 45, of Yakutat was picking up two climbers from the Cathedral Glacier Thursday evening when the ski-equipped Cessna 185 he was flying apparently caught the edge of a hidden crevasse on takeoff. The plane plunged into the 80-foot-deep crevasse, landing on its back.

''We just whammed down there,'' said William Pilling, 43, one of the two survivors. Pilling, of Bishop, Calif. suffered cuts to his head and a broken collar bone. His climbing partner, Andy Selters, 43, of Tom's Place, Calif. had four broken vertebrae.

''I think we both feel we got off very lightly in this,'' Pilling said by phone from his hospital bed at Providence Alaska Medical Center.

The crash came after a grueling 16-day trek and climb during which the two men were pinned down by a storm for six days and running low on food and fuel.

Gloyer, a pilot for Gulf Air Taxi of Yakutat, had dropped Pilling and Selters off on in the St. Elias Mountains in the Yukon Territory, just across the border from Alaska, on July 10.

The two men planned to climb 13,000-foot Mount Kennedy and make it back to their base camp for pick up on July 26. But Pilling said the climb took longer than expected and they were socked in by a storm soon after descending from the summit.

''We were trapped on the Cathedral Glacier for six days, waiting for the weather to clear,'' Pilling said. ''We waited for so long that, finally, our pickup date arrived. Of course, were weren't at our base camp. Fortunately, because he's a good pilot, he flew around and found us on the other side of the mountain so he landed and picked us up.''

After the crash, Pilling and Selters were disoriented, but able to get out of the plane.

''We were buried underneath equipment and, of course, we were upside down,'' Pilling said. ''It was impossible to get Kurt out. I don't think he lived very long.''

The two men stayed with the plane, knowing that a search would be launched when Gloyer did not return to Yakutat. Rescuers on both sides of the border began searching Thursday evening. The plane was located at about 9:30 a.m. Friday.

''Once I heard a helicopter I stuck my hand out the window and started waving so they knew somebody survived,'' Pilling said.

Pararescuers from the Canadian Forces and the Alaska Air National Guard, as well as Kluane National Park search and rescue crews worked together to retrieve the victims. Snow and ice conditions were described as unstable at the crash site.

By Friday evening the two survivors had been transported to a hospital in Anchorage.

Pilling said he had climbed numerous times in the St. Elias Mountains during the past decade, often flying into the mountains with Gloyer.

''He'd always demonstrated himself to be a very skilled pilot with an incredibly detailed knowledge of the St. Elias Mountains and the weather and how to land and take off on glaciers,'' Pilling said. ''Kurt was a really great guy.''

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