Cop whose helicopter report led to Denali inspection mistaken for helicopter

An Alaska police officer was recently ticketed on Denali for reporting that he spotted a helicopter, not an emergency medical service, on the mountain and following it out of bounds. Officer Austin Seifert of…

Cop whose helicopter report led to Denali inspection mistaken for helicopter

An Alaska police officer was recently ticketed on Denali for reporting that he spotted a helicopter, not an emergency medical service, on the mountain and following it out of bounds.

Officer Austin Seifert of the Spenard, Alaska, police department reported to the commander of the national park on Monday morning, July 2, that he had seen a small helicopter on Denali at 6am and followed it for six miles.

He circled the chopper three times before returning to his base, Seifert said.

But the office of the Denali administrator identified the helicopter by its insignia and called the guard to assess the situation. Rangers determined that the helicopter was on their regular training flights and that the pilot was no threat to the people or wilderness of the mountains.

A Spenard police dispatcher told the dispatcher to follow Seifert’s directions, and to let the helicopter pilot know the police officer was in front of him, according to a review of the incident by the APM Corp, the the concessionaire in charge of the area where Seifert’s report was made.

The dispatcher offered to let the pilot know that the ranger was calling so he would avoid “getting taken down,” the APM report said.

Eventually, the pilot turned around and entered restricted airspace and directed police to search for the pilot and to look for any damage to the chopper.

The helicopter crew had arrived on Denali on the afternoon of June 30 to attend a National Park Service awards ceremony, according to the APM report.

A spokesman for the Spenard police said Seifert was ordered to a four-day department-sponsored education program for his actions, including access to a law enforcement employee data base.

He declined to give details about the discipline, but a spokesman for the national park said Seifert was also given a letter of correction by the agency’s assistant superintendent regarding his improper reporting.

National Park Service spokeswoman Morgan Durrant said the letter determined the helicopter pilot met all of the ranger standards, despite the inaccurate report.

“The national park rejects all reports and verbal training from police officers not to follow ranger’s directions,” Durrant said.

• This article was amended on 13 July to remove an inaccurate reference to National Park Service’s dispatcher.

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