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Aniak Teenagers Who Helped Rescue Plane Crash Survivors Are Being Called Heroes

An Alaska Division of Forestry plane crashed in Aniak on May 28. Local residents helped the pilot and three passengers to shore.
David Mattson
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When a plane carrying four state forestry employees crashed in Aniak on May 28, local teenagers leapt into action to help rescue the passengers. The Alaska Division of Forestry says that none of the passengers sustained life-threatening injuries. Many Aniak residents are now calling the teenagers heroes for their quick response.

Three teenage boys in Aniak were out for a ride on their four-wheeler on the afternoon of May 28. On their way back home from the village’s gravel pit, they saw a plane floating in a lake by the road. Seventeen-year-old Trevor Morgan said that he and his friends, 13-year-old Dylan Nicholson and 19-year-old Arthur “AJ” Simeon, stopped and stared at the plane that seemingly materialized out of thin air. 

“I was like, 'Dang man, that wasn’t there 30 seconds ago,'” Morgan said.

The boys were stunned until they heard the yells and saw people start to hobble out of the plane. Immediately, Nicholson called his aunt at the Alaska State Trooper dispatch office to bring medical help. Then he said that he saw a baseball-sized lump on one man’s head.

“I seen how injured they were, and then I just jumped in,” Nicholson said.

Morgan was already in the water.

“I wasn't really thinking at all. It was just kind of instinct,” Morgan said.

In the water, Nicholson smelled diesel fuel that had pooled around the plane. In freezing water that went up to their waists, the boys helped carry two of the passengers, Craig Friday from Hooper Bay and Kelly Kehlenbach from Aniak, to shore. Nicholson said that their feet sank into the mud with each step, and one of the men had a broken foot. 

“It didn't feel real. It was like we're in a movie or something,” Nicholson said. 

Once on shore, the boys loaded Friday and Kehlenbach into Morgan’s truck to take them to the health clinic. They had to leave behind the pilot, Mark Jordan of Eagle River, and Albert Simon of Hooper Bay because they couldn’t get them out of the plane without help.

By that point, Mason Dallmann, 17, and Skye Morgan, 18, had gotten to the crash site. The Division of Forestry reported that Dallmann waded out to stay with the two men for 30 minutes until more help arrived. Workers from the health clinic extracted the two men from the plane, and troopers transported them to shore with a boat. 

Division of Forestry spokesperson Tim Mowry said that as of June 1, the pilot and two of the passengers, Simon and Kehlenbach, were still recovering from surgeries. The other passenger, Friday, has been released from the hospital. 

The men involved in the crash are used to doing the rescuing themselves. They are seasonal firefighters who were on their way to Soldotna to provide backup support for wildland firefighters in that area. Mowry said that region is under high fire danger. 

Nicholson said that he asked one of the firefighters from Hooper Bay how the plane ended up in the water.

“He said he was sleeping, and then he opened his eyes and they're just going straight down,” Nicholson said.

Federal officials say that engine failure caused the Division of Forestry plane to plummet into a pool of water in a gravel pit off the end of the runway. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash and expects to have a preliminary report out in two weeks. 

Aniak City Council member David Mattson called the teenagers heroes for jumping into the river and initiating the rescue effort. Julia Simeon, Dallmann’s mother, says that’s just how the kids were raised.

“Growing up in a small village, you know, everybody helps everybody,” Simeon said.

Mattson said that Aniak was looking at ways to recognize its teens for their actions.

 

Greg Kim is a news reporter for KYUK covering environment, health, education, public safety, culture and subsistence. He's covered everything from Newtok's relocation due to climate change-fueled erosion to the Bethel chicken massacre of 2020.