ALIVE: The life and death story of an Alaskan plane crash

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View the entire ALIVE series

Little Known Fact: Before I was a photographer, I was a wilderness survival guide, running courses on wilderness living on multiple continents. Last fall I was musing over concepts for a new personal campaign with HMUA/Art Director Lindsey Watkins when it hit me– with all the experience in survival, why not tell a realistic survival story? We decided to collaborate on illustrating the story of two Alaskan researchers whose plane crashes while flying over interior Alaska.

March 15th. Two geologic researchers from Fairbanks, AK were flying over the interior when a flock of geese smashed their windshield and forced a crash-landing in the Yukon-Tanana Wilderness. The pilot managed to prevent a catastrophic landing but died from wounds resulting from the crash, leaving a severely injured man and surviving woman alone in the vast wilderness region. With the onset of an late-season cold front and search area of tens of thousands of acres, there is little prospect of finding the crash site.

I don’t want to give away more than that in words. Here’s a story that is realistic about the difficulty and suffering of a survival situation and also illustrates the incredible capacity some human beings have to overcome the insurmountable and even thrive in the wilderness.

Shooting started in late November. My assistant and I hiked off into the Enchantment Lakes Wilderness in the North Cascades of Washington, armed with tons of outdoor gear and camera equipment. After a week of hard snowshoeing up the sides of mountains, I managed to get some terrific plates to setup our survival scenario. In January, we pulled together a fantastic crew in the studio to shoot the talent and the action, which were then composited together with the outdoor scenes to create the story of our tragic survivors.

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The result was surprising. Despite having storyboarded and then mocked up each shot with stand-in talent, I think we were all floored when actress Alyssa Kay brought an incredible intensity of emotion and expression to the scenes. While retouching, I found my own mental state to be a bit unbalanced after staring at photographs of her sadness in closeup portraits, as well as the degree of suffering model Andy Gregory exhibited with the help of SFX Artist Shawn Shelton.

Many thanks to our fantastic crew. In addition to Lindsey and Shawn, it took the considerable talents of Deb Tudor with wardrobe, Mandy Kehoe with props, and the assistance of Dalton Green, Casey Nation and Colton Running. What truly made this series come alive were the acting abilities of actors Alyssa Kay and model Andy Gregory, cast by Samara Lerman. Also I’d like to give a special thanks to Tina Yaw for her assistance on our production mockups, and pilot Jeff Chang with Rainier Flight Service who provided aircraft and flight time over the Enchantments.

It’s my sincere hope that everyone who sees this series walks away feeling a little more thankful for all the wonders we have in our lives. I know I am.