Two people in a scenic glider died when they crashed in the Tetons on Saturday.
The glider pilot has been identified as Kristine Ciesinski, 65, of Victor, Idaho. The passenger’s name was withheld until next of kin was notified, but Denise Germann, public affairs officer for Grand Teton National Park, identified the second person Sunday as David Ross, 65, of Salt Lake City.
Around noon Saturday, Teton Interagency Dispatch was contacted about two people who did not return from a scenic glider ride that had departed from Driggs, Idaho. As crews from Teton park were mobilizing to assist Teton County Search and Rescue, word was received that a cellphone indicated the glider might be in the park. Someone in a helicopter then reported wreckage in the park.
When park rangers flew to the site, they discovered the wreckage between the Middle Teton and South Teton, above Icefloe Lake at approximately 10,800 feet.
Germann described the terrain around the lake as rocky and steep.
Park rangers recovered the two bodies via a long-line aerial operation.
Ciesinski is an internationally known soprano opera singer. Teton Aviation manager Peter Kline did not return a request for comment Sunday, but Ciesinski is listed as one of the center’s commercial pilots and a certified flight instructor.
“Kris started flying gliders in 1998,” her website biography reads. “Having flown as a passenger all over the world in her career as an international opera singer, Kris moved to Teton Valley to enjoy the mountains and a different quality of life. She earned her private pilot certificate in the glider, and commercial and instructor ratings quickly followed. Kris has since added a commercial airplane rating to her repertoire. With over 1500 hours of soaring these mountains, she still loves every flight and loves to show others the Tetons from the eagle’s perspective!”
Teton Aviation’s scenic glider flights cost $350 for 1 hour of flight time. Rides are offered May through September, weather permitting. Passengers can be as young as 10 years old.
The gliders are towed into the air and released at about 12,000 feet near Table Mountain. The return flight is a glide back to the Driggs airport.
The website says the operation has had no problems with safety during its almost three decades.
“Any outdoor or adventure activity carries risk but at Teton Aviation we take every opportunity available to mitigate that risk,” the website reads. “Your safety is our number one priority. Since opening our doors in the 1990’s we have been flying scenic tours without a single issue. Our airplanes and gliders are FAA certified and undergo regular and thorough maintenance inspections by FAA certified mechanics. Teton Aviation pilots are FAA certified commercial pilots and highly trained both in the aircraft and the mountain environment in which we fly. Our pilots, as a group, have decades of flying experience and specialize in mountain flying. If it isn’t safe we won’t be flying, that we will guarantee!”
The National Park Service is conducting an investigation, which was ongoing at press time.
— Johanna Love contributed to this report.
— This story has been updated to include quotes from Teton Aviation’s website and information on the scenic flights. Ed.