Missing Denali hiker makes call | AspenTimes.com

Missing Denali hiker makes call

Dan Joling
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

ANCHORAGE, Alaska ” A cell phone call interrupted Ellane Nelson on Wednesday morning as she listened to Denali National Park officials give a briefing on the search for her missing daughter.

According to park spokeswoman Kris Fister, Nelson glanced at her cell phone at 9:15 am. as if she’d seen a ghost.

Caller ID indicated the call was from 23-year-old Erica Nelson, who had vanished Thursday along with her roommate, 25-year-old Abby Flantz.

Park officials had reported the women were not carrying a cell phone, but the call was not a hallucination. Nelson answered the phone and heard her daughter say she and Flantz were alive and well.

The cell phone’s battery was weak but park officials were able to locate the signal coming from the eastern section of the 100-square mile they had been searching for more than four days, Anchorage television station KTUU reported.

Park Service officials told the women to stay put, make themselves visible and signal any helicopters that flew overhead.

The agency dispatched two helicopters to pick the women up, but three hours later, still had not found the women and redoubled their search efforts.

The new search area is north of Mount Healy about 5 miles west of the Parks Highway, the main highway that connects Anchorage and Fairbanks. The search area about 180 miles north of Anchorage and is a mix of national park and state-owned lands.

An additional helicopter and an airplane searched the new area and 10 ground searchers and two dog teams were being dropped off. The Park Service said more ground searchers would move to the area Wednesday afternoon if needed.

There was no other cell phone contact after the initial call, Fister said.

Nelson, of Las Vegas, and Flantz, of Gaylord, Minn., left Thursday from the Savage Creek checkpoint just 15 miles from the park entrance, intending to return the next day.

They were spotted by other hikers a mile off the road before they vanished.

When the women did not show up for work Saturday at Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, a hotel outside the park, they were reported overdue and the search began.

Searchers scoured a 100-square mile search area that includes dense alder and willow, some black spruce forest, but also miles of open tundra.

They found no indication that the women had left the park but were puzzled that no clothing or gear had been found, or that the women had not somehow signaled the three helicopters or park airplane that flew overhead.

Officials said it was unlikely the women merely decided to extend their camping trip. Nelson was scheduled to fly Sunday night to Houston so she could be maid of honor in her sister’s wedding.

The backpackers had a permit to camp in the Mount Healy wilderness unit and their intended destination required a crossing of the Savage River.

Crossing park rivers in swift, cold water can be dangerous and searchers looked for indications of trouble along the banks of the Savage.

Searchers found evidence of grizzly bears in the area but said an animal attack was less of a threat.

The Park Service on Wednesday brought in additional search and rescue teams from Grand Teton, Mount Rainier, Sequoia-Kings Canyon, and Yosemite national parks.