Park ranger raised in Duluth dies in Utah plane crash

A Duluth native who was chief law enforcement officer of a national park in Utah has died in a plane crash while scouting for an upcoming elk hunting trip.

Brent McGinn

A Duluth native who was chief law enforcement officer of a national park in Utah has died in a plane crash while scouting for an upcoming elk hunting trip.

The body of Brent McGinn, 49, who graduated from Duluth Cathedral High School in 1979, was found in the wreckage early Saturday along with fellow Park Service law enforcement officer Laurie Axelson.

The crash was discovered in a remote area of the Dixie National Forest in southern Utah. Both worked at the Glenn Canyon National Recreation Area on the Utah-Arizona border where McGinn served as the chief ranger.

McGinn, the chief ranger at Glen Canyon, had worked at the national recreation area for nearly three years. He had started his career with the National Park Service as a technician at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in 1980. He had also worked at Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks and Canaveral National Seashore.

McGinn is survived by his parents and three siblings.


Axelson, 41, is believed to have owned the airplane and was pilot of the plane at the time of the crash in a mountainous area described as "steep and mean terrain'' by a Garfield County Sheriff's Department official. Rescuers were brought to the scene in a Utah State Police helicopter which also was used to recover the victims.

A National Park Service spokeswoman said it is believed the pair took off Friday night from the Bryce Canyon airport and were bound for the airport in Page, Arizona, near the headquarters for Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, but failed to arrive as expected Friday night. Sometime Saturday morning, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area dispatchers were notified that the private plane was missing, prompting a search of the area. Three hours later, the wreckage of the Cessna 172 was found and McGinn and Axelson were confirmed dead, according to the Garfield County Sheriff's Department.

National Park Service officials said the cause of the crash is under investigation and that officials from the National Transportation Safety Board and Garfield County and National Park Service staff from Glen Canyon and Grand Canyon National Park are all expected to participate.

Authorities did not have any information on Axelson's background or experience as a pilot.

Glen Canyon Acting Superintendent Kym Hall called the two well-known and passionate people and said their loss leaves a "tremendous hole in our organization."

"When you think about what rangers do every day and the frequency with which they put themselves in harm's way for the protection of visitors and park resources, it is a bitter irony that a recreational outing on a day away from work took the lives of two of our law enforcement rangers," Hall said in a statement released Sunday.

Dixie National Forest covers about two million acres of southern Utah near Cedar City.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at
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