TALKEETNA — A decorated state Department of Public Safety pilot, a veteran Valley Alaska State Trooper and a Talkeetna snowmachiner were killed late Saturday during an attempt to rescue the injured snowmachiner.

Mel Nading, 55, who had been the pilot of Helo-1, AST’s main rescue helicopter, since 2000, and Trooper Tage Toll, 40, had reportedly retrieved 56-year-old Carl Ober and were returning to rendezvous with medics at the Sunshine Tesoro station when Helo-1 went down, Commissioner of Public Safety Joseph Masters said at a Monday press conference about the crash.

“Helo-1 did not make the rendezvous,” Masters said, adding that after the wreckage was located Sunday morning, “an assessment of the scene was conducted and it was determined there were no survivors.”

Events leading up to the crash began at about 7:35 p.m., Saturday, when troopers received a cellphone call from Ober saying he was injured and stranded near Larson Lake near Talkeetna, said Col. Keith Mallard, Alaska State Troopers director. As part of the rescue effort, Nading took off in Helo-1, picked up Toll then located Ober at about 10 p.m.

Helo-1 retrieved Ober and was last reported on its way to the Sunshine Tesoro gas station at about 11:17 p.m. to meet with medics, but never arrived. A search and rescue effort was initiated and the wreckage of Helo-1 was discovered at about 9:30 a.m., Sunday at the south end of Larson Lake — about a five-minute flight from the Sunshine Tesoro rendezvous point, Mallard said.

Masters added that officials with the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating and that a cause of the crash has not been determined. The bodies of the three men were recovered and transported to Anchorage Sunday.

“An assessment of the scene was conducted and it was determined there were no survivors,” he said. “At this point, we will not speculate as to why Helo-1 crashed.”

Saturday’s rescue attempt was fairly routine, Mallard said. He said it’s standard procedure to have another trooper on board Helo 1 to act as a spotter. He also said that Nading, who lived in Anchorage, had put in more than 3,000 hours flying the aircraft and had helped save many lives since being hired as the primary pilot of Helo-1 in December 2000.

His contributions to AST rescue efforts earned Nading “so many (decorations) that I wouldn’t be able to recite them at this point,” Mallard said.

The crash is a sad epitaph for Helo-1, which has been at the forefront of search and rescue efforts that have saved numerous lives over the years. In 2012, Mallard said, Nading made more than 900 contacts with individuals while responding to rescue calls. He also said Saturday’s crash was the first fatal incident involving Helo-1. The helicopter also was involved in what has been classified as “a hard landing” about nine years ago, also with Nading as the pilot.

The deaths of Nading and Toll, a 10-year Alaska State Troopers veteran, have affected the AST family deeply, Mallard said.

“As you can imagine, the loss of — it’s like losing a family member,” he said. “Our hearts go out to the families of those individuals, and like family, we’re going to take care of the families of both pilot Mel Nading and Alaska State Trooper Tage Toll.”

Following Monday’s press conference, Gov. Sean Parnell ordered state flags be flown at half-staff in honor of Nading and Toll. The flags will be lowered on the days of the memorial services for the men, which have not been determined.

As for the future of Helo-1, officials said Monday that other AST helicopters will try and fill in until it can be replaced. Cost to replace the aircraft is about $3.2 million, Mallard said, and just last year the state Legislature approved funding to purchase another of the same type of helicopter to be based in Fairbanks. It is not know now if that helicopter will replace Helo-1 in Southcentral instead.

Commissioner Masters called the fatal crash “a great tragedy and loss” for the Department of Public Safety. “Every day our people are put in harm’s way and face it without a thought that ‘hey, today I may not come home.’”

Contact reporter Greg Johnson at or 352-2269.

(9) comments


This would not have happened had the snowmachiner had a partner,

We spend time, energy, money, and risk rescuing people who fail in the backcountry.

A partner is rule number 1.

Being prepared for an accident is rule number 2.

Mel, I'll miss you, man. Thanks for all the great rescues and your awesome attitude. Trooper Toll- thanks for your service, Sir. And rest in peace, Mr. Ober. Your community misses you.

And pearl- you know jackshiot about aviation in Alaska. Go back to Florida.


I'm pretty sure that the thousands of people who have been rescued by Mr Nading and Helo-1 over the years would disagree with Pearl's comments. It's kind of like saying that WWII walkie talkies were large and unreliable so we shouldn't use our cell phones to call 911.

A Veteran
A Veteran

I beg to differ. Helicopters have come a long way since their introduction in late WW-2. Back then they were very hard to fly. Not so now a days. The bird used by the AST was an A-star.It has a very good safety record.

Todays helicopters have auto pilot , hover stablization and very dependable jet turbine engines. They can fly at night with night vision goggles for the pilots and crew. They are a powerful asset to Alaska and rescue operations both on the land and sea. Their ability to hover and to land in areas a fixed aircraft can not is their biggest advantage.

Todays pilots have very good training. Medivac pilots are some of the best. If you want to see what goes on in a SAR (search and rescue) mission. I suggest you tune into the weather channel and watch an episode or two of " Coast Guard Alaska". Although they use a larger aircraft HH-60 Jayhawks. It will show you just how important these aircraft are to Alaska. Another would be National Geographic's "Alaska State Troopers". Both programs are about real troopers and Coast Guard personel in real operations.

Yes there are risks involved I won't kid you on that. But without these air assets many people here would not be alive to tell their tales.

As for myself I was a helicopter crew chief on board UH-1 Huey Helicopters for a number of years.( Think Vietnam era, even though I was crewing them long after that war.)

I hope this clears some things up for you.


Wow Pearl - do you think before you speak? And I can only assume you take what someone else as FACT - without doing any type of research.
What the piolts flew back during WWII were probably much harder than what have been produced today - like with everything else technology has evolved.
Helicopters can land where planes can not - they can reach locations much faster and save lives - over using snowmachines/ATV's and other means (not to mention the paid and trouble balancing an injured person during those travels until you can reach a road where an ambulance can meet you).
So you are saying we shouldn't use helicopters to medi-vac people from crashes to the hospital?


How very sad. Especially since it was totally preventable. The state troopers should not be using helicopters to rescue people. I once had a neighbor who was a World War II pilot. He told me helicopters are very hard to fly and are very unforgiving when something goes wrong. It's not worth putting other peoples lives in danger by using them. If the person really needed rescuing then they should have used a snowmachine to get where he was, just like he did. It would have been much safer. As long as they keep using helicopters, this will happen again. It's just a matter of time.
People need to take responsibilty for their own actions. If that means they have to wait longer to be rescued then so be it. They're the ones that put themselves in that position. They also should be charged for all costs related to rescuing them. Tax payers should not be paying for their lack of intelligence in getting themselves in that position.

Daddy's girl
Daddy's girl

So very tragic. My heartfelt condolences and prayers to all the families and friends
of those who perished. And a thank you to our AST for always being there to keep
us safe .I am so sorry


Thoughts, prayers & condolences to the families.

Our AST's put their lives on the line every day. Whether it is search & rescue or public safety pursuing dangerous criminals, they are heros and deserve our gratitude.


Condolences to all. No way to express the loss for someone doing good.


Does Alaska get it yet?

(More unplanned growth, requires more people needing more government services, more repercussions for all)

Tragic. RIP for those who lost their lives.

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