What will it take?
What is it going to take? Now, 24-year-old newly wed Veranika Nikanava has died just outside of Denali National Park as she and her husband tried to recross the rain-swollen Teklanika River after spending two nights at the infamous “Magic Bus.”
The dilapidated bus, Fairbanks Transit Bus 142, is located some 20 miles down the Stampede Trail, near Healy. It once hauled construction workers, but its axle broke and it was abandoned and since has been used as shelter.
It gained notoriety in the late ’90s, when a book and movie titled ‘Into the Wild,’ were released. It chronicled the life and death of 24-year-old Christopher McCandless.
Throughout the years, the McCandless story has inspired hundreds around the world to make the arduous, dangerous pilgrimage to Healy to walk in McCandless’ footsteps and reach the bus where his body was found and recovered in 1992.
An unprepared McCandless had trekked into the Alaska wilderness with scant food and equipment. He spent the summer living in the bus and was found dead of starvation there four months later. The bus has become something of a monument for all-too-often unprepared hikers.
Each year, hapless hikers get lost, or are trapped by the rising Teklanika River, or somehow are injured and cannot get out. That has required, again and again, that rescuers risk their lives and resources to go find and retrieve them. It is expensive and dangerous. Between 2009 and 2017 there were more than two dozen such rescues.
Sometimes it is to no avail. In 2010, a 29-year-old Swiss woman drowned while trying to cross the Teklanika River. Now a second woman is dead and the bus remains a lure for others and a danger for their rescuers.
Many, including us, repeated have urged the state to move the bus.
Year ago, we wrote: “Enough. Enough of risking rescuers’ lives. Enough of risking pilots and aircraft and the lives of searchers. Just simply enough. Legislators should set aside an amount of money to destroy the bus or remove it from the wilds. In the end, it would be money well spent.”
Nothing has been done and the bus has claimed another life. If it is not moved it will claim others. It is not a question of “if,” it a question of “when.”
What is it going to take before the state finally acts?