'Into the Wild Bus' lifted out of Alaskan wilderness by National Guard

Julia LeDoux
June 19, 2020 - 10:30 am

Alaska National Guard

A 1940s-era bus featured in the book and movie, "Into the Wild," was extracted from the Stampede Trail west of the Teklanika River by the Alaska National Guard on Thursday.

“This is an abandoned and deteriorating vehicle that was requiring dangerous and costly rescue efforts, but more importantly, was costing some visitors their lives. I'm glad we found a safe, respectful and economical solution to this situation,” said Corri A. Feige, commissioner for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources in a release.

In a coordinated effort with the Department of Natural Resources, 12 Alaska Army National Guardsmen assigned to 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment, airlifted the abandoned bus to a secure site.

"We're fortunate the Alaska Army National Guard could do the job as a training mission to practice airlifting vehicles, at no cost to the public or additional cost to the state,” Feige added.

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The abandoned vehicle  sat 25 miles west of the Parks Highway near Haly, and was known as "Bus 142" or the "Magic Bus.” It was popularized by John Krakauer's 1996 book "Into the Wild," and Sean Penn's film adaptation in 2007 that chronicles the story of 24-year-old adventurer Chris McCandless, who spent the summer in the bus in 1992 and died of starvation after 114-days.

Numerous travelers have sought to reach the bus by retracing McCandless' steps, and many have come to harm or required search-and-rescue services while hiking in harsh weather or crossing the rain- and meltwater-swollen Teklanika or Savage rivers, according to the release

There were 15 bus-related search-and-rescue operations by the state between 2009 and 2017, according to DNR reports. In February, Alaska State Troopers rescued five Italian hikers, one of whom suffered severe frostbite. Travelers from Switzerland and Belarus drowned in 2010 and 2019, prompting public outcry – particularly among Alaskans – to reduce or eliminate the hazard.

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Under the oversight of the DNR, the 1-207th AVN pilots, flight engineers, crew chiefs and mechanics arrived via a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter to clear vegetation and obstacles and ensure a safe rigging operation. Holes were cut in the roof and floor of the vehicle so dual point chain kits could be secured to the bus's frame.

Boulders were removed that had blocked the surface entrance from Stampede road to the materials site, which served as an interim staging point.

"This was a tremendous training opportunity for our heavy lift unit and a great way to lend a helping hand to our partners in the DNR and Alaskans everywhere," said Maj. Zachary Miller, an executive officer with 1-207th AVN and primary pilot for the extraction.

The Army National Guard used a CH-47 Chinook, an American twin-engine, tandem-rotor, heavy-lift helicopter, to execute "Operation Yutan" and extracted the bus. The aircrew also ensured the safekeeping and safe transportation of a suitcase that holds sentimental value to the McCandless family.

Feige said the bus will be stored at a secure site while the DNR considers options for its permanent relocation.

Reach Julia LeDoux at Julia@connectingvets.com.

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