Last week, Bus 142, an abandoned 1940s-era Fairbanks, Alaska city bus popularized in John Krakauer’s 1996 book Into the Wild and Sean Penn’s 2007 film of the same name, was airlifted out of the Alaskan wilderness.
“After studying the issue closely, prioritizing public safety and considering a variety of alternatives, we decided it was best to remove the bus from its location on the Stampede Trail,” Corri Feige, commissioner of Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources, said in a press release.
Hidden in the Alaskan back-country on the remote side of Teklanika River, approximately 40 kilometres west of the Parks Highway, the bus had proven to be a treacherous tourist attraction. Lured by the sense of adventure described in Krakauer’s book, travelers attempted to retrace the steps of Chris McCandless, a 24-year-old from El Segundo, Calif., who spent 114 days living in the bus during the summer of 1992 before dying of starvation.
According to DNR reports, between 2009 and 2017, there were 15 bus-related search and rescue operations, including travelers from Switzerland and Belarus who drowned in 2010 and 2019.
“On the one hand, Alaska welcomes residents and visitors for whom the real challenges and risks of recreating in our wild areas heighten their enjoyment,” Feige said. “On the other hand, this bus had been attracting far too many visitors unprepared for the rigors of the challenge. They were risking harm to themselves or others, requiring search and rescue teams to put themselves in harm’s way, consuming limited public resources, and in some cases losing their lives.”
Bus 142 has rested quietly in the Alaskan wilderness since 1961. After retiring from service under the Fairbanks City Transit System in the 1950s, the Yutan Construction Co. purchased the bus to be used as housing for its employees while they constructed a pioneer road between Lignite and Stampede. The bus was abandoned upon completion of the road.
To remove Bus 142 from its location, the DNR requested help from the Alaskan National Guard. “We’re fortunate the Alaska Army National Guard could do the job as a training mission to practice airlifting vehicles, at no cost to the public or additional cost to the State,” Feige said.
On June 18, 12 guardsmen flew a CH-47 Chinook helicopter to the bus’s site, executing what was deemed “Operation Yutan”. Holes were cut into the bus’s roof and floor to securely link chains through the vehicle, lifting it up into the air. “This was a tremendous training opportunity for our heavy lift unit and a great way to lend a helping hand to our partners in the DNR and Alaskans everywhere,” Maj. Zachary Miller, the pilot responsible for the extraction, said in an Alaska National Guard press release.
Currently, Bus 142 is being stored in a secure location while the DNR determines its future.
“It is my strong intention to prevent the bus and its legacy from being exploited for publicity, profiteering, or any other disrespectful use,” Feige said. “Decisions on its final disposition will reflect our responsibility for the health, safety, and well-being of our residents, our visitors, and our land and resources.”