Mankato man's son assumed dead after plane crash in Alaska

Aug. 23—(This version corrects the spelling of Nick Blace's name and adds information about his mother).

MANKATO — Rick Blace says a divine hand was behind the visit earlier this summer from his Alaska son, who is believed dead after a plane crash Aug. 9 in mountainous terrain near the border of Denali National Park and Preserve.

The bodies of Nicolas Blace, 44, and the plane's pilot have not been recovered.

"Nick was just here three weeks ago, so I did get to see him," said Blace, of Mankato.

"We did the kind of things you (fathers and sons) do when you get together. He'd just been fishing on the Copper River so he brought along a whole box of frozen salmon."

Nick, who retired from the Air Force two years ago, lived in Chugiak, Alaska, with wife, Keri. Their recent visit to Minnesota was for a family graduation celebration for their daughter, Emma, who lives in Florida.

Rick said he and his son communicated by phone almost every day. However, he typically did not receive calls from his daughter-in-law.

"When I got a call from Keri two weeks ago, I knew something was wrong," he said.

Nick had been heading out on a hunting trip in a Piper PA-18 piloted by Jason Tucker, 45, of Wasilla, Alaska, when the plane crashed into a narrow ravine to the north of the Yentna River's West Fork, according to Alaska's KTUU Channel 2.

A crew from the Alaska Air National Guard Rescue Coordination Center made the first attempt to reach the crash site but was forced to return to its base due to weather. Another flight the day after the crash located the wreckage, but the steep surrounding terrain prevented a landing at the site. Upon observing the wreckage, it was determined the crash was not survivable.

"With great empathy for the families of the deceased pilot and hunter," said Brooke Merrell, Denali Park superintendent, in a press release Monday, "we have made the difficult determination not to attempt a recovery effort at this time."

Officials came to the decision after working with TEMSCO helicopter pilots to test out the feasibility of lifting the downed aircraft out of the ravine using a mechanical grabber at the end of a 450-foot-long line.

Rick said his son had loved living in Alaska, hunting wild game and playing golf.

He's had been excited about the hunting trip and a chance to shoot an elusive mountain sheep.

A graduate of Apple Valley High School, Nick grew up in the Twin Cities area but visited Mankato regularly. His mother, Karen Plummer, is a former Mankato resident.

"He would play at Terrace View Golf Course, so a lot of people knew him," Rick said.

A veteran of the Iraq War, Nick had served as a load master. In 1997, he was one of 15 members of the Air Force recognized for exemplary service.

"We got to go to the Pentagon and see him receive it," Rick said, recalling the trip he and his wife, Mary, took to Washington, D.C.

Arrangements are pending for a memorial service in Alaska.

Rick is experiencing the second time he's lost a loved on in an aviation accident.

"My brother died in a helicopter crash at Oklahoma City in 1998. Perry was only 39 years old," he said.