3 Sitka crew killed in WA Coast Guard crash; 1 hurt


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Coast Guard Rear Adm. Gary Blore says the helicopter was an updated HH-60, called an HH-60 Tango.  A Sitka crew flew down to Astoria yesterday to pick up the helicopter which was being transferred from North Carolina.


Officials say the crash happened around 8:30 a.m. Alaska Time in the water near La Push, Wash., a small community about 100 miles west of Seattle.


Blore briefed reporters on Wednesday afternoon. He said recovery efforts were still underway at the scene on Wednesday, and once complete, the helicopter would be salvaged from the water.


 “I want to send our deepest sympathies from District 13 to the family and friends of this helicopter crew,” he said. The briefing was carried live on NorthWest Cable News.


Coast Guard crews from Oregon and Washington, as well as Canadian forces assisted in rescue operations. So did nearby members of the Quileute Nation, including Darryl Penn, the harbormaster in La Push. He says he heard the crash and saw what appeared to be wreckage in the water. Others were already calling 911, so Penn got on the radio and alerted the local Coast Guard about the accident.  Then he got in a skiff with his cousin and went to help.


He says they found one member of the crew in the water and brought him in to shore.


“After we brought the gentleman here, we stayed with him till EMT got here,” Penn said. “So we did our first aid. It’s just basic first aid. He was definitely banged up pretty good.”


The Clallum County public utility confirms that the chopper struck some power lines that stretched over the water between the mainland and nearby James Island.


 “There’s some light, or a light out on James Island that belongs to the Coast Guard,” said Dennis Shaw, superintendent of the utility. “I’m assuming a warning light. Those wires used to serve those lights, but our understanding is that there are some solar panels now on the island, and that is what now powers the lights.”


Shaw sways the utility de-energized the power lines immediately after the accident.  Blore, from the Coast Guard, says those lines were about 250 feet above water level.


“It is not unusual for helicopters to fly anywhere from the surface to 2- or 3,000 feet,” Blore said. “So that would not be an atypical profile that they would be at that altitude.”


Blore said power lines such as those would be marked on nautical charts, which the crew would have had on board.


The National Weather Service reported clear skies near La Push at the time of the crash, with winds at 10 miles per hour. 120 people work at Coast Guard Air Station Sitka.


A chaplain has been dispatched from Juneau to Sitka to help Coast Guard personnel cope with the accident’s aftermath. A crisis team is also enroute to offer counseling and other services to station staff and their families.


KCAW’s Ken Fate, Northwest News Network’s Tom Banse, and CoastAlaska’s Ed Schoenfeld contributed to this report.

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