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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. In 1982, Jim purchased K2 Aviation based in Talkeetna from Kitty Banner and Kimball Forrest (thus, K2), who themselves had purchased it from Holland Air Service in 1979. This began Jim's long career as an expert mountain aviator and he became highly skilled at making glacier landings on Denali.