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Jim Okonek came to Alaska with the U.S. Air Force in 1964 as a helicopter pilot working at the Rescue Coordination Center based at Elmendorf Field near Anchorage. In this capacity, he was involved in rescue operations, which sparked his initial interest in Mount McKinley (Denali). His interest in the mountain got an added boost when his son, Brian, started climbing in the 1970s and Jim began flying him to the mountain. As retirement approached in the 1970's, Jim and his family spent more time in the Denali-Susitna Valley area, first in a cabin in the woods and finally in Talkeetna itself. Eventually, Jim founded K2 Aviation based in Talkeetna and became an expert mountain aviator and was skilled at making glacier landings on Denali.