Helicopter removes ‘Into the Wild’ bus that lured Alaska travelers to their deaths

Chinook helicopter removing the 'Into the Wild' bus
An Army National Guard Chinook helicopter carries a dilapidated Fairbanks bus away from its former resting place near the Teklanika River, close to Denali National Park. (Alaska National Guard)

An Army National Guard heavy-lift helicopter has removed the old Fairbanks city bus from the spot near Denali National Park where it once housed Christopher McCandless, the subject of the popular nonfiction book “Into the Wild.”

Photos posted to Facebook on Thursday show a twin-bladed Chinook helicopter carrying the bus away from the remote site it occupied near the Teklanika River, where it attracted numerous tourists who had to be rescued after the book’s publication.

The old Fairbanks city bus made famous by “Into the Wild” has become a tourist attraction. (Photo courtesy of Friends of the Stampede)

The Alaska departments of transportation, natural resources and military and veterans’ affairs were all involved in the operation, which came at the request of the Denali Borough, said Mayor Clay Walker. The bus had been abandoned since the 1960s, he said.

“I know it’s the right thing for public safety in the area, removing the perilous attraction,” he said. “At the same time, it’s always a little bittersweet when a piece of your history gets pulled out.”

Twelve National Guard employees helped remove the bus; they cut holes in its ceiling and floor to attach chains, the agency said in a prepared statement. The crew also “ensured the safekeeping and safe transportation of a suitcase that holds sentimental value to the McCandless family,” the statement said.

The effort was called “Operation Yutan,” in a reference to Yutan Construction, said National Guard spokeswoman Candis Olmstead. That’s the company that left the bus behind in the 1960s, after it housed workers building a mining road.

Walker said the bus is temporarily being moved to “safe storage,” but wouldn’t reveal its exact location. He said he doesn’t know where it will ultimately end up, but the state’s statement said it’s exploring putting the bus on display.

“We encourage people to enjoy Alaska’s wild areas safely, and we understand the hold this bus has had on the popular imagination,” Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Corri Feige said in a prepared statement. “However, 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.”

There were 15 bus-related search and rescue operations by the state between 2009 and 2017, according to Feige’s department.

In April, a Brazilian tourist was evacuated from the bus by helicopter. And last year, a newlywed woman from Belarus died after being swept away while trying to cross the Teklanika River on her way to the bus.

Another hiker drowned in 2010.

KUAC’s Dan Bross contributed reporting.

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