Galveston residents recall days stuck on glacier

August 12, 2010 12:21:15 PM PDT
A Galveston family stranded for two days on a glacier is now safe and off the ice. The Lantz family became stranded on the Knik Glacier in Alaska when their sightseeing plane crashed. It's the waiting that's the most difficult, whether on an Alaskan glacier for rescue or here in Houston for a phone call that your loved ones are OK.

But now a Galveston family has been reunited, and an Alaskan pilot is on safe ground, too.

"Tears of joy. We're so lucky," a family member said.

But thousands of miles away in Houston, Georgia Akers had worried for hours about her niece, Mary Jan Lantz.

Mary Jan Lantz was visiting her father in Alaska, along with her husband, Fred, and sons Patrick and David. The Galveston family was on a sightseeing tour in a friend's plane when it crashed on Knik Glacier Sunday.

"To me, it's a miracle that they're alive," Akers said.

But all four, along with pilot Don Erbey, were stranded, enduring freezing whiteout conditions and 70 mph winds.

"At that point, they had been on the glacier with no food, no water, no blankets -- just a lightweight windbreaker," Akers said.

Rescue attempts were dangerous. National Guardsmen crashed a Blackhawk helicopter trying to rescue them, but they did survive.

Para-rescuers brought in supplies on a seven-hour mission.

"Those people are my heroes," Akers said.

After two days, a helicopter reached them Tuesday night but could only take three.

"Knowing my nephew, he was going to let his sons and wife go first," Akers said.

On Wednesday, the three talked briefly to news crews as they waited at the hospital.

"All we could do is just talk to each other about what we knew," Patrick Lantz said.

"We assessed everything we had, what I have in my purse," Mary Jan Lantz said.

And just as Akers received a text from Fred and Mary Jan's daughter, Sarah, in Austin, Fred and the pilot were being plucked from the glacier and taken to a hospital in Palmer, Alaska.

"We are on our way to meet your dad, the pilot and three guardsmen," Akers said Sarah told her.

And Akers got one last confirmation that everything was going to be OK.

"Thanks for everybody's prayers and thoughts, and I look forward to getting them home," their daughter said in another message.

Members of the Air National Guard were the last on the glacier, but by Wednesday night, they were all rescued safely and suffered only minor injuries.

Akers says she expects the Lantz family to return to Houston sometime this weekend. She says she will be there to greet them at the airport.


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