The crash of a tour company helicopter near Juneau this week that left seven people with minor injuries occurred on a glacier known for disorienting conditions.
The Coastal Helicopters flight was returning from a dog mushing camp on Herbert Glacier just after 6 p.m. Monday, according to Clint Johnson, the National Transportation Safety Board's Alaska chief. A pilot, an employee of the dog camp and five passengers were on board the Airbus AS350 B3 at the time.
"Basically, what the company is saying at this point is that they were en route downhill coming back to Juneau," Johnson said. "They were trying to turn around due to visibility and the machine contacted the snow-covered ice."
Injuries from the crash ranged from "slammed fingers" to cuts requiring a few stitches, Johnson said. Another Coastal helicopter arrived at the crash site to pick up the occupants, who were flown to Bartlett Regional Hospital for treatment and evaluation.
Although the AS350's skids hit the ice first, Johnson said, the helicopter sustained "substantial damage" in the crash. Work was underway to recover the helicopter from the glacier Friday.
Johnson said the glacier saw a number of crashes in 1999, including a Coastal Helicopters crash that killed all seven people on board. Months later, a Temsco Helicopters crash injured six people, prompting the launch of two Temsco helicopters that also crashed.
Flat light conditions, in which pilots became disoriented and couldn't discern the ground from the sky, were cited by the NTSB as a factor in all four of those crashes.
Johnson said none of the NTSB's initial contacts with Coastal mentioned flat light conditions as a factor in Monday's crash, which remains under investigation.
"We need to be able to talk to the pilot at length," Johnson said.