Alaska Army Helicopter Airlifts Out 1940s-Era Bus Chris McCandless Died In

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Alaska Army National Guard Soldiers extract the "Magic Bus."
Alaska Army National Guard Soldiers assigned to 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment execute an extraction mission of the iconic "Magic Bus" via a CH-47 Chinook helicopter over Healy, Alaska, June 18, 2020. (National Guard)

PALMER, Alaska -- Almost 30 years after hiker Christopher McCandless died in an abandoned 1940s-era bus in the Alaska wilderness, that bus has been airlifted away from its resting place just outside Denali National Park by the Alaska Army National Guard.

The so-called "Magic Bus" had become a dangerous tourist destination deep in Alaska's interior, about 19 miles down the Stampede Trail. McCandless' story became particularly famous after it was told in the book "Into the Wild" and a movie by the same name.

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The state has conducted at least 15 search operations related to the bus since 2009, according to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. Local officials near the bus report rescuing dozens more, and at least two tourists have died there, including Veranika Nikanava, a newlywed from Belarus who was swept away by the same river that prevented McCandless from exiting the area.

Alaska Army National Guard extract the iconic "Magic Bus."
Alaska Army National Guard Soldiers assigned to 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment execute an extraction mission of the iconic "Magic Bus" via a CH-47 Chinook helicopter over Healy, Alaska, June 18, 2020. (National Guard)

A dozen Alaska Army National Guard soldiers assigned to the 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment, extracted the bus Thursday as part of a training mission dubbed Operation Yutan, a reference to the bus' previous owner, Yutan Construction. The Guard unit cut holes in the roof and floor to secure chain kits to the frame, then moved it out by sling load with a CH-47 Chinook. The crew also "ensured the safekeeping and safe transportation of a suitcase that holds sentimental value to the McCandless family," a news release said.

"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," Maj. Zachary Miller, who worked as the operation's primary pilot, said in the release. "The department initially reached out to us with the goal of reducing the number of search-and-rescue cases that resulted from folks trying to reach the bus who may not necessarily be fully prepared for the trip."

McCandless, 24, hitchhiked his way to Alaska, spent the summer in the bus in 1992 and died of starvation after 114 days, when the swollen Teklanika River blocked his return to Healy, the nearest town.

The replica bus used in the 2007 film adaption of "Into the Wild," a 1996 book about McCandless by John Krakauer, sits at the 49th State Brewery and restaurant in Healy.

 

 

"Conducting this sling load was definitely non-standard," Miller said in the release. "We took our enlisted Soldiers with the most experience and expertise in this area to develop the best and safest solution."

State officials have not yet said what will become of the bus, which was originally owned by the city of Fairbanks before Yutan converted it to a camper bus and then abandoned it on the trail following a construction project in the 1960s. Officials said they are discussing plans to display it in a safe location.

"After studying the issue closely, weighing many factors and considering a variety of alternatives, we decided it was best to remove the bus from its location on the Stampede Trail," Corri A. Feige, DNR commissioner, said in the release. "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."

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com.

Related: Hikers Rescued Trying to Reach 'Into the Wild' Bus

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