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Jim Okonek

Jim Okonek was interviewed on February 26 and February 27, 1992 by Bill Brown in Talkeetna, Alaska. The first interview was in Jim's K2 Aviation office at the Talkeetna airport, and the second was at the K2 Aviation bunkhouse in downtown Talkeetna. The first interview was going along fine until Bill realized that the tape was not winding. So in the second part of the interview, they went back over the missing topics and continued to the end of the interview. Jim was able to repeat the lost discussions almost word for word as Bill had first heard and noted them. In this interview, Jim talks about his experience as a pilot around Denali, flying climbers to and from the mountain, and landing on glaciers. He also discusses the challenges of mountain flying, being involved with rescues on the mountain and the high cost of such operations, and flightseeing around Denali.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 1993-02-08/09

Project: Denali Mountaineering
Date of Interview: Feb 26, 1992
Narrator(s): Jim Okonek
Interviewer(s): Bill Brown
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
There is no slideshow for this person.

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1) Personal background

2) Moving to Talkeetna

3) Getting glacier flying checkout from Don Sheldon

4) Rapid weather change and cooperation among air taxi pilots

5) Combination of father flying and son mountaineerin

6) The flight to the mountain as a visitor experience

7) Career and evolution of McKinley mountaineering

8) Brad Washburn's urging that Mt. McKinley be taken seriously

9) The mountain in its many guises

10) Moral dilemma: freedom vs. responsibility

11) Rescue costs

12) Virtues of mountain flyer planes

13) Looking back

Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.

After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.


Tape 1

Section 1: Air Force 1964\ Rescue Coordination Center -- Elmendorf\ Sheldon, Don\ Talkeetna\ rescue -- 1st winter ascent (1965)\ Genet, Ray\ Johnson, Dave\ Talkeetna\ rescue -- military\ rescue -- Vietnam\ helicopters -- military\ rescue -- Woods, Buddy\ Okonek, Brian\ Super Cub\ East High -- Anchorage\ aviation science -- teaching\ Hudson, Cliff\ Open Entry Program -- late 60's\ Swan Lake\ Parks Highway -- early\ Petersville Road\ Susitna Hydro Project\ Akland Company\ helicopters\ rescue -- West Buttress Route\ rescue -- Mt. Foraker\ rescue -- Mt. Dan Beard\ Helicopter -- Bell 206\ Helicopter -- Hughes 500 C and D|

Tape 2

Section 2: Okonek, Brian -- climbing feats\ NPS -- helicopters\ Talkeetna\ rescue -- 1st winter ascent (1965)\ Sheldon, Don\ Open Entry Program -- late 60's\ Super Cub\ Hudson, Cliff\ Susitna Hydro Project\ Kantishna\ Mount Marcus Baker\ Ruth Glacier|

Section 3: Reeve, Bob\ Sheldon, Don\ Glacier landing\ aviation -- glacier techniques\ aircraft -- high altitude\ aviation -- landing techniques\ aviation -- slope differences\ fall line\ aviation -- white out tricks\ aviation -- humps vs. gullies\ glacier -- crevasse\ Wright Brothers|

Section 4: weather\ communication\ Talkeetna\ Air Force -- career in\ Hudson, Cliff\ Lee, David\ Talkeetna Air Taxi\ Lake Hood|

Section 5: Okonek, Brian\ exploring\ Dall Glacier|

Section 6: climbers -- appreciation of mountain\ Mackovjak, Jim\ Kahiltna Glacier -- SE Fork\ Mt. Hunter\ Mount Foraker\ Talkeetna\ Mount Francis\ climbers -- excitement\ Communication -- radio\ weather -- delays|

Section 7: mountaineering -- evolution of\ mountaineering -- Europe, comparison\ climbing -- crowding\ summit\ NPS -- role\ Talkeetna\ NPS -- briefings\ medical station\ West Buttress Route\ yellow snow\ waste -- human\ Mount McKinley -- accessibility|

Section 8: Washburn, Brad\ West Buttress\ Talkeetna\ access -- mountain\ Helicopter\ education -- climber\ medical research station\ Hackett, Dr. Peter\ Mills, Dr.\ health -- altitude tests\ health -- altitude sickness\ health -- frostbite\ climbing -- pre-climb screening\ acclimation\ rescue -- high altitude\ Fort Wainwright\ Fort Greely\ rescue -- military\ Gulf War\ helicopter -- Lama\ Rocky Mt. Helicopters, CO\ Washburn, Brad\ military -- altitude training|

Section 9: rescue -- problems\ helicopters -- limitations\ rescue -- NPS hire\ rescue -- decisions\ K2\ weather -- change|

Section 10: NPS -- screening\ access -- regulations\ Mount McKinley\ Mount Foraker\ NPS -- briefings\ Canada\ Wrangell -- St. Elias Park|

Section 11: rescue -- costs\ rescue -- costs, Europe comparison\ rescue -- costs, to government\ mountaineering -- costs in Europe\ rescue costs -- alternatives to|

Section 12: Cessna 185 -- ski plane\ Cessna 206\ Thomas, Lowell Jr.\ airplane -- turbos\ helicopters\ Super Cub\ Talkeetna\ Sheldon, Don\ aircraft -- limitations|

Section 13: climbers -- types\ aircraft sightseeing\ tourism -- flying\ air taxi|