Deaths prompt Alaska officials to remove 'Into the Wild' bus

Full Screen
1 / 6

In this photo released by the Alaska National Guard, Alaska Army National Guard soldiers use a CH-47 Chinook helicopter to removed an abandoned bus, popularized by the book and movie "Into the Wild," out of its location in the Alaska backcountry Thursday, June 18, 2020, as part of a training mission. Alaska Natural Resources Commissioner Corri Feige, in a release, said the bus will be kept in a secure location while her department weighs various options for what to do with it. (Sgt. Seth LaCount/Alaska National Guard via AP)

JUNEAU, Alaska – 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 kilometers) 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.”