Jeep Grand Cherokee Stuck on Remote Alaskan Trail Needed a Black Hawk Helicopter Airlift

The chopper alone cost $8,250 to deploy, and that's not counting the attempts the tow company made to retrieve it beforehand.
Elite Towing and Recovery

If you go off-road, there’s always a chance you’re going to get stuck. That’s why winches are one of the first mods four-wheelers make to their rigs. That said, a winch can’t always save you from wandering 16 miles down a treacherous Alaskan trail in your mostly stock, first-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee without so much as a suspension lift. If you find yourself in that predicament, you might need a helicopter.

That’s what happened to the owner of this Jeep ZJ around July 4. They were driving on the Knik Glacier Trail—near the community of Butte, Alaska—when the SUV slid off the path into a pool of glacial meltwater. OnX Off-Road rates the 20.3-mile route at a 6, which means moderately difficult, so it’s impressive that the decades-old Jeep even made it that far.

Elite Towing and Recovery out of Wasilla attempted to reach the Jeep twice with their off-road truck but couldn’t due to high-water crossings. Rain in the area meant the streams were running swifter than when the Jeep first ventured onto the trail. This left the crew with only one real option: airlifting it out.

Heli Alaska deployed a chopper first to get the ZJ’s exact location. After that, Elite contacted Northern Pioneer Helicopters, which sent in a UH-60 Black Hawk to retrieve the vehicle. That wasn’t cheap, as you can imagine—a representative from Northern Pioneer explained to me that those aircraft cost $8,250 per hour to charter. All in all, they said it was an hour job to fly out from Big Lake, Alaska, and drop the Jeep where it could be loaded onto a rollback wrecker. I also reached out to Elite Towing for more info, and will update this post when they respond.

You can see in the photo here that they found two spots on the Jeep’s passenger side to attach the straps. Elite says it was only in the air for about two minutes before they sat it down and rigged up the other side. Doing so in the location where it was initially stuck would have meant dipping into the frigid glacial waters. Rather than risk anyone’s safety, they made the call to lift it out as you see here, saving time and money for the customer in the process. When the rig in question is only worth about $1,500, you choose your battles.

Some commenters on the internet chimed in to say that they could’ve waited for water levels to drop and simply recover it with another 4×4. The thing is, because the Jeep was partially submerged, leaving it could result in oil, coolant, or fuel leaking out. Elite said in a Facebook comment that because they were able to get to it so soon, the only liquid that leaked out when they raised it up was glacier water.

Questions still remain, like what the driver expected to happen when wheeling their stock truck deep into such a remote area. It’s a popular trail according to one local I spoke with, but you run the risk of this happening when you aren’t properly equipped to make a recovery. At least the Jeep is out now, and it didn’t require a massive effort from strangers on the internet to drag it back to safety.

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