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

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Car drives into utility pole in Nanaimo

Woman driving car reportedly not seriously injured

Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district considers COVID-19 lessons in planning for fall

Elementary, secondary school committees formed to plan for next school year

Infringing festival finds a way to dance during pandemic

Crimson Coast Dance Society holding drive-in, micro and physically distanced events July 10-19

Nanaimo sees Island’s first nurse practitioner primary care clinic

Nexus Primary Care Clinic opened in late June in south end

Nanaimo RCMP ask for help finding missing 19-year-old

Haley Murphy has not been seen since Tuesday, June 30, say police

Victoria man dies after skydiving incident in Nanoose Bay

34-year-old had made more than 1,000 jumps

RCMP searching for missing Langford teens in Cowichan Valley

Pair were headed to Lake Cowichan/Youbou area, last heard from in North Cowichan

Following incident at sea, fishing lodge says it will reopen despite Haida travel ban

QCL reopens July 10, says president; Haida chief councillor describes ‘dangerous’ boating encounter

Kamloops RCMP officer’s conduct under review after blackface jokes on social media

Meinke’s Instagram is private and it’s unclear when the posts were made

NHL says 35 players have tested positive for COVID-19 since June 8

Positive rate for the league is just under 6%

Man charged in Rideau Hall crash had rifle, shotguns, high-capacity magazine: RCMP

Hurren is accused of threatening to cause death or bodily harm to the prime minister

B.C. extends income assistance exemption for COVID-19

Provincial program to match Ottawa’s CERB, student pay

Most Read