Dive team deployed after helicopter crashes into Alaska lake; all 4 on board presumed dead
Jul 22, 2023, 6:28 PM
(North Slope Borough via AP)
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A rescue and recovery dive team was deployed Saturday after a helicopter with a pilot and three state workers crashed in a large lake on Alaska’s North Slope, officials said.
No survivors have been located.
“The official word is, they are missing, presumed fatal,” said Clint Johnson, the chief of the National Transportation Safety Board’s Alaska region.
An NTSB investigator was also en route to the accident scene Saturday as plans were being made to recover the wreckage from the water, he said. Challenges with the lake crash site and the availability of another helicopter in the area likely mean the aircraft won’t be raised from the middle of the shallow, 1-mile-wide (1.6-kilometer-wide) lake until Monday or Tuesday, Johnson said.
The downed helicopter had been chartered by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, the department said in a statement Friday. It was carrying three employees from the Division of Geological and Geophysical Survey who had been conducting field work.
“DNR is praying for our employees and the pilot, their families, and the DNR team,” the statement said. “We are continuing to await updates from the search and rescue effort.”
Natural Resources Commissioner John Boyle flew to the crash site Friday night with a North Slope Search and Rescue spotter ahead of the recovery operation, said Lorraine Henry, a spokesperson for the state agency.
NTSB investigating the crash of a Bell 206L-4 Helicopter near Utqiaġvik, Alaska.
— NTSB Newsroom (@NTSB_Newsroom) July 21, 2023
The Bell 206 helicopter was reported overdue Thursday night. A North Slope Borough search and rescue team in a helicopter found debris matching the description of the missing helicopter, D.J. Fauske, the borough’s director of government and external affairs, said in a text to The Associated Press on Friday.
Fauske did not immediately respond to a list of questions sent to him by email Saturday.
The helicopter’s wreckage was found in the lake near Wainwright, which is about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Utqiagvik, the northernmost city in the U.S., formerly known as Barrow.
Johnson said because of where the helicopter came to rest, in the middle of the lake, they will have to use another helicopter to pull it out.
“This is going to be a helicopter recovery, no ifs, no ands, no buts, out in the middle of no place,” he said. That location, hundreds of miles north of Anchorage, also means helicopters are hard to come by.
“The helicopters up here are at an absolute premium,” he said.
Also complicating matters is that from the photographs he’s seen of the submerged helicopter, it’s in fragments, Johnson said.
The North Slope Borough requested that the Alaska State Troopers activate the Alaska Dive Search, Rescue and Recovery Team, troopers spokesperson Austin McDaniel said in an email to The Associated Press.
The team was en route Saturday to Utqiagvik, located on the coast of the Arctic Ocean about 720 miles (1,159 kilometers) northwest of Anchorage. The borough is the primary agency coordinating efforts at the crash site, McDaniel said.
The helicopter flight originated in Utqiagvik and was supposed to return there, Johnson said, adding other details of the flight were not immediately available.
The helicopter was operated by Maritime Helicopters Inc., according to a statement on the company’s website. It confirmed the accident was fatal and said names of the pilot and passengers would be released pending notification of next of kin.
Associated Press writer Becky Bohrer in Juneau contributed.