Missing Alaska Backpackers Reunited With Families

Two women missing for days in Denali National Park have been found and returned to park headquarters.

Park spokeswoman Kris Fister told the Associated Press that 23-year-old Erica Nelson of Las Vegas and 25-year-old Abby Flantz of Gaylord, Minn., were found Wednesday afternoon outside the park's boundaries on the northern side.

A helicopter picked up the two shortly before 5 p.m., about an hour after the mother of one of the women received a second phone call from her daughter.

They were then united with family members at the park's headquarters.

The two women embarked on an overnight hike last Thursday. A massive search began for them Saturday.


The two backpackers, reported missing after they failed to return from an overnight hike, contacted one of the hiker's family members Wednesday morning.

"Abby Flantz and Erica Nelson have been found, alive and well," Fister, initially announced in a news release around 10 a.m. local time. "The families are here, and the young women will shortly be reunited with them."

Fister later issued a second news release in which she pulled back from the original announcement. Nelson's mother, who had arrived at Denali to assist in the search, received a phone call at 9:15 a.m. from her daughter, who reported that both women were "uninjured and healthy."

"The young women were asked to move to a highly visible area, remain in that location, make themselves highly visible and signal any helicopters that flew overhead," Fister wrote in the second release. Helicopters were dispatched to the area where authorities believed the women may be, but they have not yet pinpointed the backpackers' exact location. No additional cell phone contact has been made. Authorities originally said that the women were not carrying a cell phone.

Flantz and Nelson, both working in Alaska for the summer at a local wilderness lodge, were dropped by a shuttle bus at an access point to Denali's backcountry hiking area.

The driver confirmed to officials that the pair had been dropped at the park Thursday, and other hikers reported seeing them on the trail about 15 miles from the park entrance.

Flantz and Nelson had obtained a wilderness permit that morning for an overnight backpacking trip. They did not emerge from their trek on Friday, June 13, and their employers at the lodge reported the pair overdue to the National Park Service on Saturday when they failed to show up for work.

A search began that expanded Monday and Tuesday to cover a 100-square-mile footprint around the Savage River. The trailless terrain, described by park spokeswoman Fister as rugged, fluctuates in elevation from 2,000 to 6,000 feet and is dotted with spruce trees and heavy brush.

More than 30 searchers in teams of three or four -- some equipped with tracking dogs -- combed the area on the ground Tuesday, Fister said, with pilots scanning the footprint from the air and another 20 people providing support staff logistics.

Authorities knew what color backpacks the two women were carrying in addition to a green tent. Fister said that the weather conditions had been typical of Denali for this time of year, with daytime highs in the 60s and nighttime lows in the 40s. There are also several places where the backpackers could get drinking water, Fister said.

Authorities were considering the possibility that someone had attacked the two women, but they had found no signs of foul play. Fister also did not rule out a scenario where the women were confronted by the park's wild animals, which include wolves and grizzly bears.

While the two women were described as experienced hikers who recently spent a night in the park, Fister said that most of the area where they set out to hike -- in fact, most of Denali -- is unmarked.

"Part of the issue here is that Denali has very few developed trails," Fister said in an interview Tuesday. "This is their first summer in Alaska, so their experience is limited."