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.
As of Saturday, no survivors had been found.
”The four occupants remain missing, and are presumed dead,” said Clint Johnson, the chief of the National Transportation Safety Board’s Alaska region, on Saturday.
Johnson said the NTSB’s presumption that there were no survivors is based on the nature of the crash.
“The helicopter was found partially submerged and fragmented at the accident site, and a search around the surrounding area did not find any survivors,” he said.
NTSB investigators were coordinating with the wreckage recovery team, and planned to send a team out once the helicopter and bodies had been recovered from the lake, he said. That team will include representatives from Bell Helicopter, the airframe manufacturer, Rolls Royce, the engine manufacturer and the FAA.
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 lake until Monday or Tuesday, Johnson said.
The 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.
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 a lake near Wainwright, which is about 50 miles south of Utqiagvik. 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. The location of the crash 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. 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 Mark Thiessen and Daily News reporter Annie Berman reported from Anchorage. AP writer Becky Bohrer in Juneau contributed.