The Alaska Army National Guard used a heavy-lift helicopter to remove an abandoned bus popularized by the book and movie “Into the Wild,” in a June 18, 2020 story. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Deaths prompt Alaska officials to remove ‘Into the Wild’ bus

Over the years, the bus became a magnet for those wishing to retrace Christopher McCandless’ steps

An abandoned bus in the Alaska wilderness where a young man documented his demise over 114 days in 1992 has been removed by officials, frustrated that the bus has become a lure for dangerous, sometimes deadly pilgrimages into treacherous backcountry.

An Alaska National Guard Chinook helicopter flew the bus out of the woods just north of Denali National Park and Preserve on Thursday.

Christopher McCandless hiked to the bus located about 250 miles (402 kilometres) north of Anchorage nearly three decades ago, and the 24-year-old Virginian died from starvation when he couldn’t hike back out because of the swollen Teklanika River. He kept a journal of his plight, discovered when his body was found. McCandless’ story was first documented in Jon Krakauer’s 1996 book “Into the Wild,” followed by Sean Penn’s movie of the same name in 2007.

Over the years, the bus became a magnet for those wishing to retrace McCandless’ steps to the bus to pay homage. But the Teklanika River that prevented McCandless from hiking out also has caused problems for people who came later on pilgrimages. Two women, one from Switzerland in 2010 and one from Belarus in 2019, drowned on such pilgrimages.

State officials said there have been 15 other search-and-rescue operations since 2009, including one involving five Italian tourists last winter, one with severe frostbite.

“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 A. Feige said in a 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.”

In Alaska, the Department of Natural Resources is responsible for protecting and preserving state land.

“I was stunned when Commissioner Feige informed me,” Carine McCandless, Christopher’s sister, said in an email to The Associated Press. “Though I am saddened by the news, the decision was made with good intentions, and was certainly theirs to make. That bus didn’t belong to Chris and it doesn’t belong to his family.”

The 1940s-era bus, sometimes called “Bus 142” or “The Magic Bus,” was used to house employees by the Yutan Construction Co. when it built an access road about 25 miles west of the Parks Highway, the main thoroughfare between Anchorage and Fairbanks. The National Guard named Thursday’s bus lift “Operation Yutan.”

The bus was abandoned in 1961 and had become an emergency shelter for those using the backcountry to recreate or hunt.

“Seeing those photos of Fairbanks 142 flying out of the bush triggered a flood of complicated emotions for me,” Krakauer said in an email to the AP.

Krakauer said he respects the decision to remove the bus, “but some powerful history is attached to that old bus. A great many people care deeply about what happens to it.”

For now the bus is being kept in a secure, unnamed location while the department decides what to do with it, Feige said. A release from the Alaska National Guard said the discussion includes “possible plans to display the bus for the public to view at a safe location.”

The guard said its air crew also is safekeeping a suitcase that holds sentimental value to the McCandless family. Officials didn’t detail what was in the suitcase.

Mark Thiessen And Becky Bohrer, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Provincial COVID-19 data can now be used for B.C. to prepare for a second wave

In the past week, B.C. has seen a slight spike in daily test-positive case counts

Clearwater Elks taking a hit because of COVID-19

President Marnie Burnell noted the group was already hurting before the pandemic came into effect

Back in Time

Historical Perspective

YCS receives support from Interior Savings’ relief fund

Money will go toward food programs and new technology to improve operations

VIA Rail lays off 1,000 unionized workers across the country

Northern B.C. route Jasper to Prince George to Prince Rupert is not affected by VIA Rail layoffs

QUIZ: Are you ready for a summer road trip?

How much do you really know about roads, motor vehicles and car culture? Take this quiz to find out.

Beverly Hills 90210 star’s family selling Vancouver Island Beach Resort

You can own Jason Priestley’s Terrace Beach Resort in Ucluelet for less than $5 million

Genetic detectives begin work to trace spread of COVID-19 in Canada

The kinds of genetic technology being used for this project did not exist when SARS hit Canada in 2003

Sports fishers protest Fraser River Chinook closures

Public Fishery Alliance wants hatchery fish open for harvest

Amber Alert for two Quebec girls cancelled after bodies found

Romy Carpentier, 6, Norah Carpentier, 11, and their father, Martin Carpentier, missing since Wednesday

Bringing support to Indigenous students and communities, while fulfilling a dream

Mitacs is a nonprofit organization that operates research and training programs

B.C. man prepares to be first to receive double-hand transplant in Canada

After the surgery, transplant patients face a long recovery

Grocers appear before MPs to explain decision to cut pandemic pay

Executives from three of Canada’s largest grocery chains have defended their decision to end temporary wage increases

Northern B.C. First Nations call for reversal of grizzly bear hunting ban

Growing grizzly populations have led to fewer ungulates and increased fear of attacks says Chad Day

Most Read